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Tht Libr.iry of CoHgrtij aiuloyut. 1 
thr pntioMi tJilinn of tbit book at fallout: 

Liu, l-ming, 1 8th cent. 

The inner teachings of Taoism. 

Translation of: Chin tan ssu pat tau chich. 

1. Chang, Po-tuan, loth/i ith cent Chin tan ssu pai rzu 

2. Taoism. 3. Alchemy — China — Early works to «8oo 

I. Chang. Po-tuan, ioth/t ith cent 
II. Cleary, Thomas F., 1949- 
HLi900.c3563i.381 3 1986 299'. 514 86-11841 

ishn 0-87773-363-5 (pbk.) 
isbn 1 -57062-7 to-x (pbk.) 


Introduction vii 

Part One 

The Inner Teachings 3 





Part Two 

Solving Symbolic Language 5 1 





Part Three 

Related Texts 107 



The Inner Teachings 
of Taoism 


Chang Po-tuan 
Commentary by Liu I-ming 

Translated by Thomas Cleary 


Taoism is an ancient body of knowledge that has manifested itself 
in a multitude of diverse phenomena throughout Chinese history. So 
pervasive has the influence of Taoism been that it is difficult to 
name a single facet of Chinese civilisation that has not been 
touched by it in some way. Politics, religion, science, medicine, 
psychology, art, music, literature, drama, dance, design, even 
warfare - in all these realms of endeavour are to be found 
phenomena bearing the characteristic stamp of Taoism. 

There is an enormous body of specialist Taoist literature extant, 
containing a wide variety of technical lore. Much of this lore is 
couched in a number of esoteric languages, using such diverse 
formats as cosmology, mythology, religion, history, fiction, 
humour, magic, and alchemy. Needless to say, the problems of 
decoding this literature are formidable, for not only are there 
numerous codes, but even a single code may also be subject to a 
number of different interpretations. 

The methods that have been employed in Taoist practise over the 
ages are also many and varied. Included in this vast range of 
techniques are physical, psychosomatic, and mental exercises, 
including special modes of modes of movement, breathing, sexual 
intercourse, gazing, imagination and visualisation, and dreaming. 
There are also many concentration exercises using such aids as 
special patterns of walking, thinking, and writing. Other exercises 
involve human service and the cultivation of certain types of social 

The earliest known Taoist text seems to be the I Ching 4 well 
known as one of the fundamental Chinese classics, esteemed by 
both Confucians and Taoists. Composed in a time when divination 
was considered an integral part of the process of government, the 
core I Ching writings have the outward form of oracles. Taoists 
consider the I Ching one of the most detailed guides to human 
development, and the esoteric language of Taoist spiritual alchemy, 
a major teaching format, is largely based on the symbolism of the I 

After the I Ching, the most famous and popular of Taoist classics 
is undoubtedly the Tao te ching. This text was compiled and 
recorded in a time of the decay of an ancient social order, a time 
when all writing considered serious dealt with socio-political issues. 
Not surprisingly, therefore, much of the Tao te ching is presented in 
terms of advice to rulers. Taoists consider this a fundamental text, 
drawing from it models of basic meditation techniques and mental 
postures. A large body of commentary and derivative literature is 
based on the Tao te ching, including other writings and lore 
associated with Lao-tzu, the reputed transmitter of this early classic. 

Another extremely popular Taoist classic, the Chuang-tzu, was 
also written in this time of political deterioration, which was 
characterised by growing militarism and the predominance of sheer 
force over social contract. The Chuang-tzu has an air of humorous 
abandon, anarchy, satire, and unleashed imagination, envisioning an 
entirely new consciousness beyond the scope of then-current 
conceptions. Perhaps the first work of fantasy in Chinese literature 
that did not profess to be dynastic history, the classic Chuang-tzu, a 
dramatic release of the spirit, is widely considered one of the 
greatest literary masterpieces of all time. 

Another classic apparently composed or compiled around this 
same time was the Sun-tzu, a famous treatise on military strategy. 
Although it is not usually referred to as a Taoist text per se, the Sun- 
tzu is nevertheless widely recognised as largely Taoist-inspired. 
While basically pacifistic, Taoism is not sentimental and has always 

recognised the reality of war. Rather than simply make moralistic 
pronouncements against war, Taoism approaches this problem 
realistically, using two basic strategies. The first of these is 
preventive, minimising the causes of war existing in the human 
psyche; the second is palliative, minimising the trauma or war when 
it actually does take place. The Sun-tzu shows what is not referred 
to as guerrilla warfare as a Taoist type of strategy based on this idea 
of minimisation of the actual violence and overall stress of warfare. 

With the founding of the Han dynasty in the late third century 
B.C.E., the centuries of strife from which emerged such great Taoist 
classics as the Tao te ching, Chuang-tzu, and Sun-tzu came to an 
end. Taoistic laissez-faire government, characteristic of several Han 
dynasty reigns, allowed the economy to recover from generations of 
warfare and oppression; a great deal of interest was taken in natural 
science, with marked developments in agriculture and technology. 
There was also extensive intercourse between Taoism and 
Confucianism, resulting in the incorporation of certain Taoistic 
elements into the Confucian outlook. 

One of the major Taoist texts dating from the Han period is the 
Huai-nan-tzu, composed by a group a Taoists at one of the minor 
courts. The Huai-nan-tzu recasts a great deal of ancient lore in a 
form suitable for its time, presenting the natural, human, and 
supernatural realms as a continuum in which the affairs of each 
realm reflect and are reflected by those of the others. 

This vision of interreflection enabled Taoists to integrate secular 
and transcendental concerns harmoniously, and the Huai-nan-tzu 
includes discussions of political and military strategy as well as 
higher human evolution. The correspondence of the microcosm and 
the macrocosm, a characteristic theme, is also employed in a subtle 
way in the Huai-nan-tzu , inner psychic processes being represented 
metaphorically by such outer natural processes as the progress of 
the seasons. This device in particular became very popular later in 
the literature of Taoist spiritual alchemy. 

Another product of the Han dynasty, destined to become one of 
the most important Taoist texts, is the cryptic Ts’an t’ung ch’I, or 
Triplex Unity, by the adept Wei Po-yang. This manual of spiritual 
alchemy became a major sourcebook for practitioners of the 
Complete Reality School of Taoism, which arose approximately 
one thousand years after the composition of the Triplex Unity. This 
difficult but intriguing book is still referred to in modem Taoist 
literature as the ancestor of alchemical treaties and is held in highest 

Toward the end of the Han dynasty, growing political corruption 
and repression fostered spreading alienation among the 
intelligentsia as well as the peasantry. One characteristic 
manifestation of Taoism that arose from these conditions was the 
formation of intellectual circles of “pure conversation” involved in 
the study of human character and the creation of a new liberation 
literature. On the other end of the social spectrum was popular 
Taoist freemasonry, which produced vigorous movement in society 
by grassroots organisation and violent uprising. 

After the fall of the Han dynasty, China was politically 
fragmented, with much of the north and west eventually being taken 
under the rule of alien dynasties. The breakdown of the political and 
intellectual monolith of the Han provided leeway for the entry of 
new elements into Chinese culture from southern and central Asia. 
One of the most powerful forces to enter China at this time was 
Buddhism, which figured prominently in the eventual rebirth of 
Chinese civilisation after the turmoil of the post-Han generations. 

Over the centuries following the dissolution of the Han dynasty, 
Buddhist texts were translated into the Chinese language at a 
prodigious rate, and Buddhist monastic orders were established on 
Chinese soil. At the same time, a parallel development took place in 
Taoism; large numbers of Taoist scriptures resembling those of the 
Buddhists were composed, and cloisters of Taoist monks and nuns 
were eventually set up on the Buddhist model. 

These Taoist scriptures were even classified after the manner of 
the Buddhist canon, and are often considered mere imitations of 
Buddhist scriptures, much like the Buddhicised Bon and Shinto 
writings of Tibet and Japan. The Taoist scriptures contain, however, 
certain elements whose parallels in Buddhism are to be found only 
in the esoteric forms of Tantric Buddhism, which never seem to 
have become very popular in China, in contrast to Tibet and Japan. 

In addition to the great post-Han outflow of Taoist literature in 
religious garb, during this period there appeared two very famous 
classics employing older formats - the Pao-p’u-tzu and the Lieh- 
tzu. Both of these books go to great lengths to establish the idea that 
conventional knowledge is not ultimate, thus to expand the horizons 
of the human outlook; they approach the issue, however, from quite 
different angles. 

The Pao-p’u-tzu places much emphasis on immortality and 
stresses the impossibility of assessing the question of the existence 
of immortals by ordinary standards based on common experience. 
The text contains a collection of alchemical recipes for elixirs that 
are supposed to transform human beings into immortals and 
transform base metals into gold. 

It is by no means clear whether these recipes, obtained by the 
author of the Pao-p’u-tzu through extensive travel and research, 
were originally intended to be understood literally or 
metaphorically. There is ample evidence, however, that the 
supposed alchemical enterprise did involve considerable work and 
experimentation in chemistry and metallurgy as well as 
psychological development. The coexistence of material and 
spiritual alchemy was also paralleled in the West, and many 
outstanding personalities, such as Albertus Magnus, Ramon Lull, 
and Paracelsus, are associated with alchemy in Europe. 

The author of the Pao-p ’u-tzu was also a distinguished Confucian 
scholar who wrote many essays on social and political subjects. 
These writings are collected in the so-called outer chapters of the 
Pao-p’u-tzu , forming a large proportion of the book. The same 

scholar also collected and transmitted legends of immortals, who 
were believed to intervene in human affairs from time to time and 
whose existence has been the subject of lively interest in China 
since remote antiquity. 

The contents of the Lieh-tzu, in contrast, range from cosmology 
and metaphysics to satire. Among the ideas emphasised in this text 
are the interrelation of all phenomena and the limited nature of 
mental constructs used by the intellect to describe reality. A number 
of stories in the Lieh-tzu are drawn from the earlier Chuang-tzu, 
which it greatly resembles in certain ways. Some of these tales 
passed into popular lore and appear even in modern political and 
educational writings. 

By the end of the sixth century C.E., China had been reunified, 
under the short-lived Sui dynasty. Public Taoist institutions were 
now well established, drawing many Buddhist monks and nuns into 
their ranks. A degree of friction developed between Taoism and 
Buddhism on the institutional level and continued for the next two 
or three centuries, with the salutary effect of allowing neither to 
become too complacent for too long. 

The Sui dynasty was soon replaced by the T’ang dynasty (618- 
906), under which Chinese civilisation enjoyed a new golden age, 
extending its cultural and economic influence into the surrounding 
nations of Asia. During the T’ang dynasty, Buddhism flourished, 
with a number of great specialist schools emerging into 
prominence. Nevertheless, Taoism still enjoyed considerable 
official favour and support; for a time civil service examinations 
based on Taoist classics were even established alongside the 
traditional conventional examinations in Confucianism. 

A curious episode in the history of T’ang dynasty Taoism is the 
death of two emperors after ingesting alchemical immortality 
potions. The Pao-p u-tzu notwithstanding, material alchemy and the 
search for literal physical immortality had in fact been repudiated 
centuries before in such classics as the Chuang-tzu and Ts’an t’ung 

ch 7; but repeated denunciation of such practises in later literature 
suggests that they continued to exist. 

The incongruity of the age-old search for alchemical gold and 
physical immortality with the widely recognised evidence ancient 
Taoists give of advanced knowledge of psychological and physical 
realities only recently rediscovered by modern science has often led 
to the question of whether there was any real connection between 
different forms of activity lumped together under the name of 
Taoism. Although Taoist literature openly acknowledges the 
existence of ignorant experimentation and fraudulent practises, 
nevertheless it has been suggested that imperial poisoning were not 
mere superstitious bungling but intentional assassination; and that 
behind alchemical experimentation associated with Taoism was a 
conscious ploy to harness human greed to human progress by using 
it to motivate research in the natural sciences. 

After the fall of the T’ang dynasty, various sects of Taoism 
continued to thrive, with increasing organisation of sacred texts, 
rites, and local settlements. A Taoist canon was compiled in 1013, 
and an encyclopedic digest of its contents was also composed by 
the editors of the canon. 

Not long after this collection of Taoist scriptures into a canon, 
three new schools arose, giving a new face of Taoism. These were 
the Absolute One, the True Great Way, and the Complete Reality 
schools. Active in northern China under alien rule, these attracted 
many followers from all walks of life. Many Buddhist centres, 
abandoned by Chinese Buddhists in the years of turmoil brought by 
the northern conquerors, were now taken over by these new Taoists. 

The Complete Reality School, a highly purified form of Taoism 
showing a strong affinity with Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism, was 
particularly powerful and prominent, noted for its humanitarian 
works as well as its production of mystics of high attainment. 
During the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), Complete Reality Taoists 
were charged with a new compilation of the Taoist canon, and thus 

the present form of the canon contains many works by adepts of this 

Two main formats were employed by Complete Reality teachers 
and writers: records of sayings or short essays similar to those of 
the Ch’an Buddhist masters, and the ancient language of spiritual 
alchemy, largely based on the imagery of the I Ching. Unlike Ch’an 
Buddhist works, however, the Complete Reality Taoist records of 
sayings, essays, and poetry include those of numerous female 
adepts; and unlike ancient alchemical texts, Complete Reality 
alchemical writings contain a considerable measure of explicit 

One of the most important figures in the emergence of the 
Complete Reality movement was the eleventh-century adept Chang 
Po-tuan, who became known as the founder of the southern sect of 
the Complete Reality school. Chang is particularly known for is 
classic Understanding Reality , which has been a standard text of 
spiritual alchemy ever since, ranked on a par with the ancient 
Triplex Unity. 

Born into a family of Confucian scholars, Chang Po-tuan 
continued in this tradition but eventually extended his interests into 
many fields, including astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. As 
his Understanding Reality attests, he also studied Ch’an Buddhism 
in depth and did extensive research in alchemical literature. 
According to his own statement, Chang was prompted to compose 
his alchemical treaties by the enormous confusion he found in the 
exegetical literature based on earlier alchemical works. 

Although Chang spent many years associating with Buddhists ad 
Taoists in search of transcendental knowledge, he was not to meet 
his real teacher until he was over eighty years of age. He then 
learned the Taoist secrets of restoration of vitality and energy, and 
ultimately mastered the spiritual teachings. He reached a high 
degree of mystic attainment and finally passed away at the age of 
ninety-nine after transmitting the inner teachings of Taoism through 
his writings and personal contacts. 

Although Chang had a number of successful disciples, he is said 
to have been “punished by heaven ” three times for passing on 
secrets of alchemy to unworthy people. After this he retired from 
the world and wrote his magnum opus, Understanding Reality , 
through which he said sincere people could learn the process of 
spiritual transformation. 

Another of Chang’s important writings, translated here as The 
Inner Teachings of Taoism, presents a summary of Taoist practise 
in the alchemical format. It is a simplified, condensed version of the 
teachings of Understanding Reality, giving the ain outlets of the 
alchemical work in twenty short verses. This text is presented here 
with a modern explanation written by the great Taoist commentator 
Liu I-ming in 1808. 

The Inner Teachings of Taoism became a very popular text, 
perhaps because of its bravery and accessibility. It was originally 
untitled, but later became as Four Hundred Words on the Gold 
Elixir. According to Liu I-ming ’s introduction, 

The text is phrased in a simple and concise manner; the 
meaning is evident and clear. This work and Chang’s 
Understanding Reality are like inside and outside: 
Understanding Reality gives a detailed breakdown of the 
“medicinal ingredients” and “firing process” of spiritual 
alchemy, whereas this treatise gives a general summary of 
the whole subject. The two works are one yet two, two yet 

Although this treatise has been annotated and explained 
many times since its composition in the Sung dynasty, these 
interpretations are either in terms of material alchemy or in 
terms of psychosomatic exercises: it is impossible to find a 
single commentary that conveys the reality, expresses the 
spirit, and reveals the hidden dimensions of this treatise. 

I could not bear to let this precious work of the Founder be 
buried away, so I have made a detailed explanation of it, 
section by section, analysing the metaphors and clearly 
pointing out what the “crucible,” “furnace,” “medicines,” 

“firing,” “doing,” and “nondoing” are. Every word is 
clarified, every phrase analysed; I have torn away the shell to 
expose the pit, broken open the bones to reveal the marrow. 

The jewels of this treasure chest are set out clearly in the 
open, in hopes that readers will understand at a glance and 
not be deceived by misleading interpretations. 

Following his verse-by-verse elucidation of Chang Po-tuan’s text, 
Liu I-ming gives a summery in classic fashion with twenty verses of 
his own composition. Because of the general nature of Chang’s text, 
Liu then adds notes on essentials of Taoist study and secrets of 
alchemy, to clarify practical procedure in an orderly fashion. He 
explains this appendix in his introduction: 

After finishing the explanation of Chang’s text, I was still 
concerned that students might try to seek results without due 
regard for process, mistakenly hoping for immediate effects. 
Therefore I have added twenty-four essentials and twenty- 
four secrets, to enable students to proceed in an orderly 
fashion, ascending from lowliness to the heights. Those who 
practise with their feet on solid ground will eventually reach 
profound attainment of self-realisation without wasting any 

Liu I-ming was one of the foremost interpreters of Taoist classics 
in his time, and from a modern point of view his commentaries are 
unsurpassed in clarity. Deeply versed in both noumenal 
Confucianism and Ch’an Buddhism, he was dedicated to restoring 
the original principles and practises of Complete Reality Taoism. 
He believed that a point had been reached where there was more 
harm than benefit in the practise of veiling the Taoist teachings in 
esoteric language, and undertook to reveal the meaning of the 
alchemical classics in plain language. To this end, he not only 
elucidated the inner teachings of numerous ancient texts, but also 
composed a systematic study of important terminology; as he 
himself explains, 

Transmission of the true Tao has been lost for a long time, 
not just recently. After I had met genuine teachers, I 
compared the various alchemical classics and really found 
out the meaning of their symbolic language. Therefore I 
revealed what I had learned from my teachers in my 
explanations of the Triplex Unity, Understanding Reality, 
and other texts. Yet I still feared that students might have 
difficulty in gaining consistent and comprehensive 
understanding, so I wrote a treatise on symbolic language. 

This exposition of Taoist symbolism is also presented in this 
volume, again with Liu’s own poems summarising each point under 

Generally speaking, Liu’s explanations consist of three distinct 
levels of presentation, and the key to reading his works in such a 
way as to extract the essence of Taoist teaching lies in 
distinguishing these three levels. The three types of presentation Liu 
uses may be described as illustration of traditional use of esoteric 
terminology in Complete Reality teaching, repudiation of 
interpretations considered spurious by Complete Reality Taoists, 
revelations of inner meaning in plain language. 

In the course of his explanations, Liu will often speak in symbols, 
thereby demonstrating didactic manipulation of the esoteric 
terminology of elements, yin and yang, I Ching signs, and so on. 
Since ancient times this manner of expression has been used for 
several purposes: concealment, diversion, concentration, 
identification of initiates and imitators, and stimulation of thought. 

The use of symbolism is therefore an expedient, as the ancient 
Tao te ching indicates, and its use depends on attendant 
circumstances. Liu’s main purpose is to render esoteric language 
unnecessary, and the meaning of the teaching can be grasped 
without reference to these symbolic discourses. The value of Liu’s 
symbolic presentations comes after the inner meaning is understood, 

as they can then be used as keys for unlocking the meanings of other 
alchemical texts. 

Another secondary level of Liu’s presentations is his repudiation 
of certain interpretations traditionally considered spurious by 
Complete Reality Taoists. These interpretations, and the practises 
based thereon, are generally referred to as “side doors” and are said 
to range from thoroughly aberrated and harmful “deviant paths” to 
useful but minor “auxiliary techniques” that may nevertheless 
sidetrack and injure untutored or obsessive enthusiasts. Liu 

People of later times did not search out the meaning of the 
alchemical classics, but just stuck to the symbols: 
Confucians took them to be superstitious nonsense, while 
Taoists took them in a superficial manner. In extreme cases, 
people fixated on the symbols and arbitrarily invented all 
sorts of practises, getting caught up in sidetracks and deviant 
practises. Countless people have harmed themselves 
mentally and physically in this way. Surely this was not the 
intent of the ancients when they evoked images in symbolic 

Repudiation of the “side doors” actually goes back at least as far 
as the Chuang-tzu and is even more explicit in the Triplex Unity , a 
millennium before the emergence of the Complete Reality School of 
Taoism. It is reiterated in many Complete Reality texts, but there are 
variations in the degree to which auxiliary techniques are accepted 
and applied by various teachers at various times. 

In the southern sect of Complete Reality, founded by Chang Po- 
tuan, there is more emphasis on energy work than in the more 
austere northern sect, which Liu I-ming followed. This difference is 
explained by the advanced age of many initiates of the southern 
sect, beginning with Chang Po-tuan himself, who did not attain the 
Tao until he was in his eighties. Energy work, used for rejuvenation 
in order to sustain the spiritual work, is naturally often emphasised 

more, and in different forms, for older people than for younger 
people. In any case, these practises are said to be the most 
dangerous, and the need for expert guidance means that they may be 
publicly repudiated by those who practise them privately. 

The critical aspect of Liu I-ming’s work, rejecting the “side 
doors,” may be viewed as representing the most radical form of the 
traditional Complete Reality distinction between the quintessence of 
Taoism and tangential physical or psychosomatic techniques. Two 
basic forms of the interpretations repudiated as spurious are false 
analogy and literal interpretation of symbolic expressions. While 
Liu also stressed the importance of vital energy and physical health, 
in interpreting Taoist symbolism he always rejected physical 
interpretations in favour of metaphysical interpretations. 

This small volume, when approached with these distinctions in 
mind, will yield an overall understanding of Taoism as it is 
presented in the alchemical format, in terms of three levels of 
realisation: the reality, the appearance, and the illusion; or, in other 
words, the inner teachings, the outer husk, and the random spinoffs. 
In this sense, this volume is presented as an introductory study of a 
major manifestation of Taoism, including the principles, practises, 
and problems. 

Part One 

The Inner Teachings 






Earth dwells in the centre, as the mother of myriad beings. It is 
possible thereby to blend the elementary forces, produce and nurture 
myriad beings. Earth is that whereby origin and completion are 
effected. The true earth referred to here is not material earth; it is 
the true intent of the human body, which has no location. True 
intent is the director of myriad affairs; it controls the vital spirit, 
sustains essence and life, occupies and guards the centre of the 
being. Because it has functions similar to earth, it is called true 
earth. Insofar as it is truthful and whole, without fragmentation, it is 
also called true faith. Because it contains the impulse of life within 
it, it is also called the centre. Because it encloses everything, it is 
also called the yellow court. Because it is one in action and repose, 
it is also called the medicinal spoon. Because it can harmonise yin 
and yang, it is also called the yellow woman. Because it holds the 
pattern of the noumenon, it is also called the crossroads. There are 
many different names, all describing one thing, this is true intent. 

Lead is dense and heavy, hard and strong, lasts long without 
disintegrating; what is called true lead here is not ordinary lead, but 
is the formless, immaterial true sense of real knowledge in the 
human body. This true sense is outwardly dark but inwardly bright, 
strong and unbending, able to ward off external afflictions, able to 
stop internal aberrations. It is symbolised by lead and so is called 
the true lead. Because its strength and vigour are within, it is also 
called the black tiger; because its energy is associated with metal, it 
is also called the white tiger. Because it is not constrained by things, 
it is also called iron man. Because its light illumines myriad 
existents, it is also called the golden flower. Because it is the pivot 
of creation, it is also called the North Star. Because it conceals light 
within darkness, it is also called metal within water. Because it 
contains masculinity within femininity, it is also called the rabbit in 
the moon. There are many different names, all describing this one 
thing, true sense. 

Mercury is something lively and active, light and buoyant, soft 
and yielding, easily running off. Here what is called true mercury is 
not ordinary material mercury, but the formless, immaterial spiritual 
essence of conscious knowledge in the human body. The spiritual 
essence is outwardly firm yet inwardly flexible, utterly empty and 
metaphysical, unfathomable in its changing manifestations; call and 
it responds, touch it and it moves. It is symbolised by mercury, so it 
is also called true mercury. Because it goes out and in 
unpredictably, it is also called the dragon. Because its energy is 
associated with the east, it is also called the blue dragon. Because it 
is developed by passing through tempering by fire, it is also called 
the red dragon. Because its nature is soft and loving, it is also called 
the wood mother. Because it is yang outside and yin inside, it is also 
called the girl. Because it contains femininity within masculinity, it 
is also called the raven in the sun. Because its reality is hidden 
within fire, it is also called mercury within cinnabar. Because its 
light is penetrating, it is also called flowing pearl. There are many 
different names used to depict this one thing, spiritual essence. 

True intent, true sense, and spiritual essence are the three jewels 
in our bodies, true earth, true lead , and true mercury. These three 
jewels have primordial, whole, unified energy, which is complete, 
without any defect. This cannot be called intent, sense, or essence - 
it is all one reality. But then when it mixes with temporally acquired 
conditioning, and yang culminates, giving rise to yin, the single 
energy divides into three. Thus there come to be the terms intent, 
sense, and essence. Once the real divides, the false comes forth; the 
seeds or routine take command, sense faculties and data stir 
together, and habit energy grows day by day: true intent becomes 
adulterated with artificial intentions, true sense becomes adulterated 
with arbitrary feelings, and spiritual essence becomes adulterated 
with temperament. Aberration and sanity mix, the artificial confuses 
the real, essence and life are shaken; day by day, year by year, the 
real disappears and all becomes false. Positivity exhausted, 
negativity complete, how can death be avoided? 

When the real people have taught others to return to the 
fundamental and go back to the original, thereby to preserve essence 
and life, they have all taught people to restore these three things to 
reality. The path of restoration starts with knowing the original true 
intent. When you know the true intent, if you give your mind to it, 
the jewel of faith is in your hand; instantly all existents are empty, 
and you observe everything with detachment. External things cannot 
move you, and sane energy gradually arises. When consciousness of 
reality is constantly present, arbitrary feelings evaporate and true 
sense emerges, always responsive yet always calm, like true earth 
grabbing true lead so that the lead does not sink. 

Once true sense appears, not concealing, not deceiving, the 
original spirit is always present and the discriminating spirit does 
not arise; then the temperament sublimates and the spiritual essence 
becomes manifest. This is like true lead controlling true mercury, so 
that mercury does not fly up. 

The method of arresting and controlling is not a matter of 
conscious contrivance; it is natural, spontaneous arresting and 

controlling, arresting without arresting, controlling without 
controlling. Because real truthfulness is in the centre, the yin and 
yang of the sense of real knowledge and the essence of conscious 
knowledge cleave to one another, the two energies combine and 
congeal spontaneously. 

What is difficult to accomplish in alchemy is the combination of 
essence and sense. The combination of essence and sense without 
imbalance is called centring. When the intent, essence, and sense 
meet, they are as before one energy; what had gone returns; what 
was lost is restored. This is like lead and mercury returning to the 
earth pot, stable and balanced, impervious to all conditioning 
influences. The illusory body and the stubborn mind naturally 
become quiet and still. The errant movements of the illusory body 
and the stubborn mind all come from separation of intent, essence, 
and sense; when these three are united, the real returns and the 
artificial quiesces - how could body and mind be stirred? 





The previous section says that when mercury and lead return to true 
earth, body and mind do not stir; then one has entered the state of 
empty silence. But emptiness requires that emptiness reach the point 
where there is nothing to be emptiness; only then is it called the 
ultimate of emptiness. Silence requires that silence reach the point 
of utter quiescence, only then is it called the ultimate of silence. 
When you reach nothingness, the primordial unity begins to emerge; 
when you attain quiescence, the primal true positive energy comes 
back. Therefore the text says that “white snow” and “yellow 

sprouts” are produced. White snow symbolises the energy of the 
primordial unity; this is like the metaphor of “white light arising in 
the empty room.” “Yellow sprouts” appear with the return of the 
living potential; they symbolise the existence of movement within 
stillness. The empty room produces white light; when stillness 
culminates, there is movement; within black there is white; within 
yin there is yang - the primordial energy comes back, and the gold 
elixir takes form. 

Once the gold elixir has form, it is urgent to use a gentle fire to 
incubate it, without either neglect or force, not slacking off for a 
moment. The “jade furnace” is the furnace of the flexibility of earth , 
symbolising the calm serenity of the work, not being hasty or 
excited. The crucible is the crucible of the firmness of heaven , 
symbolising firmness and stability of will, not changing. The 
“purple mist flying” symbolises the sudden opening up of 
knowledge and wisdom when the work is consummated. When the 
spiritual sprouts are first born, use gentle fire to warmly nurture 
them, without either obsession or indifference, guarding against 
danger; progressing from weakness to strength, rawness to ripeness, 
when the firing is complete and the elixir is made, the light of 
wisdom shoots out - this is like violet mist flying up from the 
crucible when the medicine in the crucible is fully developed. 



The flower pond symbolises the openness of consciousness; the 
spiritual water symbolises true essence; the lotuses symbolise the 
light of wisdom; the golden waves symbolise objects of sense. 

When the spiritual sprouts have been warmly nurtured until their 
energy is complete, the flower of mind blooms and the light of 
wisdom arises. Therefore it says lotuses bloom in the flower pond. 
Once the light of wisdom arises, inwardly thoughts do not sprout, so 
essence is calm; then external things are not taken in and feelings 
are forgotten. Therefore the text says that the golden waves are quiet 
on the spiritual water. When essence is calm and feelings are 
forgotten, even if one is in the midst of myriad things, one is not 
deceived by myriad things. Round and bright, the mind is like the 
full moon shining deep in the night, its light pervading above and 
below, heaven and earth', the gold elixir crystallises in the great void 
of space. 






The preceding three sections sum up the overall process of alchemy; 
from here on is a detailed analysis of the finer subtleties of the 
medicinal substances and firing process. 

“Red sand” (cinnabar) is associated with the turbulence of the 
energy of fire and symbolises volatility in people. “Liquid silver” 
(quicksilver) is associated with the movement natural to water and 
symbolises the human mentality in people. Positive energy gives 
birth to beings; this symbolises the real essence in people. The 
vitality of metal is lustre; this symbolises the consciousness of 
reality in people. 

Lu Tsu said, “The seven-reversion restored elixir is a matter of 
people first refining themselves and awaiting the time.” The classic 
Understanding Reality ( Wu chen p’ien ) says, “If you want to 

successfully cultivate the nine-reversion, you must first refine 
yourself and master your mind.” Shang Yang Tzu said, “Restoring 
the elixir is very easy; refining the self is very hard.” These 
statements all say that if you want to practise the great Tao, you 
must first refine yourself. 

The essential point in self-refinement starts with controlling anger 
and desire. The energy of anger is the aberrant fire of the volatile 
nature, which erupts upon confrontation and is indifferent to life, 
like a conflagration burning up a mountain, which nothing can stop. 
If you do not exert effort to quell it, refining it into something 
without smoke or flame, it can easily obscure reality. “Red sand 
refines to positive energy” means taking this volatility and refining 
it into neutral true essence. 

As for desire, when the discriminating spirit of the human 
mentality sees objects and encounters things, it flies up; the senses 
become active all at once, and the feelings and emotions arise, like a 
gang of bandits stealing valuables, whom none can defend against. 
If you do not exert effort to block it and cook it into something that 
does not move or stir, it can easily thwart the process of the Tao. 
“Liquid silver cooks into metal vitality” means taking the human 
mentality and cooking it into the mindless consciousness of reality. 

The extinction of the volatile nature and the appearance of true 
sense are like red sand transmuting into positive energy, ever to be 
warm, gentle essence. The death of the human mentality and the 
presence of consciousness of reality are like liquid silver changing 
into metal vitality, ever to be luminous mind. 

Since reality is always there inside falsehood, and falsehood is 
not outside reality, when this nature and this mind go through the 
cooking and refining of fire, they become the real essence and the 
consciousness of reality. So the red sand turns to positive energy, 
and the liquid silver turns into metal vitality; if they are not put 
through a refinement process, they will always be the volatile nature 
and the human mentality, and even positive energy will turn into red 
sand, even metal vitality will turn into liquid silver. Therefore the 

text says, “ Metal vitality and positive energy, red sand and liquid 
silver.” The false can become real, and the real can become false - 
the difference is a matter of refining or not refining. So practitioners 
should first quell anger and desire in order to refine the self. 
Restoring the elixir takes place momentarily; refining the self 
requires ten months. The work of refining the self is no small 





The preceding section speaks of the work of refining the self; this 
one speaks of the secret of gathering the medicines. The solar yang 
soul and the gold raven symbolise the finest part of conscious 
knowledge; the jade rabbit and the lunar yin soul symbolise the light 
of wisdom of real knowledge. Without the light of real knowledge, 
conscious knowledge cannot perceive far; without the manifestation 
of conscious knowledge, real knowledge cannot convey its light. 
Therefore the text says, “The solar yang soul, the fat of the jade 
rabbit; the lunar yin soul, the marrow of the gold raven,” indicating 
that those two true medicines are to be put into the metaphysical 
crucible and quickly refined by fierce cooking with the true fire of 
concentration, causing them to mix and combine so that they merge 
like a flood of water, without the slightest pollution. Only then is the 
work done. 

Conscious knowledge is flighty, and real knowledge easily 
becomes concealed: as soon as they act up, one should immediately 
put them back in the crucible and make them stay there, not letting 
them leave. This crucible is not a material crucible with form; as 

explained before, it is the crucible of firmness of heaven. This is the 
firm, strong, sane energy of the positive yang of heaven. When the 
sane energy is always present, unified awareness pure and true, the 
mind is stable and the will is far-reaching, growing stronger as time 
goes on, and real knowledge and conscious knowledge are forged 
into one whole. 






The medicines are the medicines of real knowledge and conscious 
knowledge. The occult opening is an opening of profound subtlety, 
where yin and yang divide, and also where essence and life abide. 
This is what is called the opening of the mysterious pass. This 
opening has many different names - the opening of the mysterious 
female, the door of birth and death, the house of enlivening and 
killing, the opening of nothingness, the gate of myriad wonders. All 
these terms refer to the same thing. 

This opening is not existent, not nonexistent, not material, not 
void; it has no location or form, but is in ecstasy and profound 
abstraction. It is not inside or outside. If you try to find it in terms of 
place or form, you will miss it by a long shot. 

The firing process is the process of the work. The yang furnace is 
the work of intensive refinement by fierce cooking. It is not that 
there really is a furnace; because of the use of firing work to refine 
the medicines of real and conscious knowledge, it is called a 

The dragon is associated with wood and symbolises essence, 
emerging from conscious knowledge. The essence of conscious 

knowledge transforms unfathomably, so it is represented as a 
dragon. The tiger is associated with metal and symbolises sense, 
emerging from real knowledge. The sense of real knowledge is firm 
and strong and unbending, so it is represented as a tiger. 

There is temperamental nature, and there is innate essence, there 
is emotional feeling, and there is unerring sense. Temperamental 
nature is acquired, whereas innate essence is primal; emotional 
feeling is secondary, whereas unerring sense is inherent. 

The gold crucible is the crucible of the firmness of heaven. The 
mystic pearl is another name for the gold elixir. Because the gold 
elixir pill is round and bright, it is represented as a pearl; because its 
spiritual subtlety is hard to express, it is also represented as a mystic 

The preceding section said that the solar yang soul and the lunar 
yin soul transmute into one flood - the gold elixir is formed. But in 
alchemy the production of the medicines has its time and the 
operation of the fire has its process; if you do not know the time of 
the production of the medicines and the process of the operation of 
the fire, the gold elixir will not crystallise. In Understanding 
Reality , our author writes, “Even if you know the cinnabar and lead , 
it is useless if you do not know the firing process. It all depends on 
the power of practical application; the slightest deviation, and you 
will fail to crystallise the elixir.” 

When the two medicines, real knowledge and conscious 
knowledge, arise in the occult opening, one should take the 
opportunity to get to work, intensively refining them to burn away 
conditioned temperament and emotional feeling, overcome the 
ordinary dragon and ordinary tiger, and cause the true dragon and 
true tiger of primordial true essence and sense to mate in the gold 
crucible, becoming inseparably bound to one another, naturally 
producing a mystic pearl which is round and bright, pervading the 
universe without obstruction. 

However, when these medicines arise in the occult opening, 
sharing the qualities of heaven and earth , sharing the light of sun 

and moon, sharing the order of the four seasons, they are difficult to 
obtain and easy to lose. When the firing process conforms to what is 
appropriate, the real solidifies while the false evaporates, and the 
gold elixir immediately crystallises. If the firing process is even 
slightly off, the real departs while the false comes, and you stumble 
by even while it is right before you. The classic Guide to Putting in 
the medicine ( Ju yao ching ) says, “Reception of energy is fortunate; 
prevent it from turning into disaster.” It is necessary to be careful. 






The preceding section said that the occult opening can produce the 
medicines. Because this opening is most abstruse and subtle, in 
ecstasy and deep abstraction, if you aim for it, you lose it; if you 
conceptualise it, that is not it. It is not one of the ordinary apertures 
in the body, which have form and shape and can be pointed to; it is 
formless, invisible, a sacred opening that cannot be pointed out. In 
the human body, this opening is not the “yellow court” (between the 
heart and naval), not the “crimson chamber” (at the solar plexus), 
not the “field of elixir” (below the naval), not the “ocean of energy” 
(below the naval), not the coccyx, not in front of the kidneys and the 
genitals, not the middle of the spine where the ribs join, not the 
active and passive energy channels, not the “luminous hall” (an inch 
behind the midpoint between the brows), not the “centre of 
tranquillity” (in the midbrain), not the “celestial valley” (at the top 
of the head), not the “jade pillow” (at the back of the head), not the 
mouth and nose. Its creation has to do with the yin and yang 
energies of heaven and earth joining in the centre of space. 

Heaven = is firm, associated with yang; earth ee is flexible, 
associated with yin: when the two energies, firm and flexible, join 
together, then there is this opening. When the two energies, firm and 
flexible, are separate, this opening does not exist. Metaphorically, 
the open space between heaven above and earth below is this occult 

If people have firmness without flexibility, or are only flexible 
and not firm, this is solitary yin or isolated yang - with the 
adulterated energy therein suffocatingly full, how can there be the 
occult opening? Since there is no occult opening, the dynamic of 
energy has ceased - how can it produce medicine? Therefore the 
text says the occult opening is made by heaven and earth together. 

Because it is made by combination of heaven and earth , it is also 
called the lair of spirit and energy. Spirit is the subtlety of 
consciousness that is beyond conception; energy is the harmony 
living potential. Spirit is yin and yang, represented as fire == and as 
the sun. Energy is yang within yin, represented as water and as 
the moon. 

Heaven and earth , yin and yang, join together, with an opening in 
the centre space, wherein sun and moon come and go; when 
people’s firmness and flexibility join together, there is an opening in 
the centre space, wherein spirit and energy congeal. The principle is 
the same. Therefore it is called the lair of spiritual energy, with the 
vitalities of water and fire in it. 

People are born endowed with the vitalities of sun and moon 
(yang and yin), so the spirit and energy in the body are the vitalities 
of water and fire. 

This opening cannot be sought consciously, nor can it be grasped 
unconsciously. Though one depends on personal instruction from a 
teacher, still it must be realised by oneself. When you discover this 
opening, water and fire, the medicines, appear at hand and need not 
be sought externally. Right away you can cull them at will. It is too 
bad that students everywhere practise concentration on specific 

defined “apertures” in the head and torso - how can they stabilise 
spirit and energy and preserve essence and life that way? 





The preceding section said that the occult opening has the vitalities 
of water and fire ; it is by the vitalities of fire and water that the 
elixir can be formed. The vitality of fire is wood and mercury, wood 
and mercury are buoyant and symbolise spiritual essence. The 
vitality of water is metal lead ; metal is dense and tends to sink, and 
symbolises true essence. Spiritual essence, containing the fire of 
open awareness, is conscious knowledge, yang outside and yin 
inside. The yin is less than the yang; yin hides inside the yang. That 
inside yin is associated with fire, so it is called “one dash of red.” 
True sense, containing stable sane energy, is real knowledge, yin 
outside and yang inside. The yang is less than the yin; yang hides 
inside the yin. That outside yin is associated with water, so it is 
called “three pounds of black.” 

“One dash of red” symbolises a small amount; “three pounds of 
black” symbolises a large amount - it is not that there really are 
measures of one dash and three pounds. The method of alchemy 
involves gathering the bit of true fire of open awareness within 
conscious knowledge and refining out the adulterated energy of 
confused feelings, then gathering the pure spiritual water of 
desirelessness within real knowledge and extinguishing the baseless 
burning of the temperament. When the true fire and spiritual water 
join into one, water and fire balance each other, true feeling and 
spiritual essence combine, and real knowledge and conscious 

knowledge cleave to one another; then sense is itself essence, and 
essence is itself sense. Utterly conscious of reality, consciousness 
utterly real, the unified energy functions the same as heaven and 
earth. This is likened to lead and mercury being forged into spiritual 
granules; when the firing is complete, the medicine is perfected and 
turns violet-gold, never again to change. 






The preceding section said that the elixir can be compounded with 
lead and mercury. People might suppose that this means it is made 
by forging ordinary material lead and mercury, but they still do not 
realise that these are not the ordinary material substances, but are 
the beautiful scenery of the home garden within oneself. Since real 
knowledge and conscious knowledge, which are one’s own true 
lead and mercury , are naturally present in one’s home, they need not 
be sought externally; the scenery is beautiful. Yin and yang being in 
harmony, the mechanism of life unceasing, is like the weather in 
spring; the medicinal sprouts grow, without needing the work of 
plough and hoe. White snow flies, filling the sky; everywhere there 
grow yellow sprouts, which you can gather as you go along - 
everything is the Tao; wherever you walk there is treasure at every 
step, as though the whole earth were gold. 






The preceding section says the scenery is inherent in the home 
garden; nevertheless, though it is inherent, it is not at your command 
without thoroughgoing work. Because the lead of real knowledge is 
sunken into yin, it is symbolised by the water trigram =-=, yin 
outside and yang inside, yang enclosed by yin, acquired influences 
covering up the inherent sane energy so that the sane energy cannot 
get out by itself. If you want to bring it out, the function is in the 
palace of fire = ; conscious knowledge, solid outside and empty 
inside, is symbolised by the fire trigram, containing the true fire of 
open awareness. When you use this true fire to burn away acquired 
influences, then real knowledge appears and merges with conscious 
knowledge, turning black to red, real knowledge becoming 
conscious knowledge. Yang, capturing yin, obtains nurturance; yin 
and yang cleave to one another, producing a harmonious energy, 
like a thick fog staying inside the crucible without dispersing. 






The true mercury, conscious knowledge, secretes the adulterated 
energy of discriminatory awareness; it is symbolised by the trigram 
fire =, being light outside and dark inside. The discriminatory 
awareness uses consciousness to produce illusions; seeing fire, it 
flies - without the lead of real knowledge to control it, the 

discriminating awareness would cause trouble, and it would be 
impossible to return to reality. Therefore, the function lies in water. 
Water symbolises real knowledge, which has the pure “water” of 
true unity. When you see this pure water to extinguish the aberrant 
fire of discriminating awareness, after the aberrant fire goes out, 
conscious knowledge returns to reality. The “south garden” 
represents fire; the “jade balustrade” represents water: ; the “maiden” 
is another name for conscious knowledge, so called because 
conscious knowledge is yin within yang. When conscious 
knowledge is controlled by real knowledge, yin comes to yang and 
is not moved by external things; conscious knowledge cleaves to 
real knowledge, real knowledge cleaves to conscious knowledge. 
This is “the maiden going to the south garden, her hand gripping the 
jade balustrade,” the functions balancing and completing one 





The preceding sections speak of wood/mercury, metal/ lead, water , 
and fire mixing together; people often imagine these terms to apply 
to forms and locations within the body, associating fire with the 
heart and the south, associating water with the genitals and the 
north, associating wood with thunder and the liver and the east, 
associating metal with lake and the lungs and the west. They just 
take the heart, genitals, liver, and lungs for water =-=, fire =, 
thunder =_=, and lake ==, and have actually not gotten the true 
tradition. They still do not know that thunder stands for our true 
essence, lake stands for our true sense, water stands for our real 

knowledge, and fire stands for our conscious knowledge. These four 
are the primordial true “four forms” inherent in us; because of 
mixture with acquired adulterated energy, they each dwell in a 
separate place and cannot join. Now, if you want to restore them to 
unity as one energy, this requires the work of aggregation. 

The work of aggregation means turning the celestial mechanism 
of the dipper handle. The dipper handle is the fifth, sixth, and 
seventh stars of the Big Dipper. Where these stars sit is unlucky; 
what they point to is lucky. They turn, as it were, the constellations 
through the heavens in the course of a year. In the human body, this 
refers to the point of true sense of real knowledge. One name of true 
sense is the iron man, in that it is strong and unbending, able to give 
life and to kill; this is also like the dipper handle in the sky. After 
birth, it is polluted by external influences, seduced by external 
things; the dipper handle points outward, not inward; the enlivening 
energy is outside, the killing energy is inside. Following the course 
of nature, the young mature, the mature age, the aged die; this goes 
on and on in repetitious cycles, with no hope of escape. If one 
knows the mechanism of life and death and turns around the dipper 
handle, when one changes one’s orientation, one arrives at one’s 
homeland and can thereby take over the evolutionary cycle and thus 
join the four forms and five elemental energies, so that the elixir 
soon forms, without effort. 

But most people cannot recognise the dipper handle of true sense; 
they mistakenly take physical locations in the four directions in the 
body to be thunder , lake , water , and fire , and indulge in bogus 
practises, vainly imagining formation of the elixir. Does no one 
wonder why they struggle all their lives, only to grow old with no 
attainment? Is this not to be lamented? 





The preceding section states that thunder, lake, water, and fire have 
special meanings and are not east, west, south, north. Not only that; 
when it says in the alchemical classics to advance the yang fire in 
December, repel the yin convergence in May, and bathe in spring 
and autumn, these are all just metaphors, without literal reality. 
They do not really mean the four seasons. 

In the course of nature’s cycle, the time when yang energy first 
emerges from the earth is called the time of the rat, which 
corresponds to the month of December and the hour of midnight. 
The time when yin energy first emerges from the earth is called the 
time of the horse, which corresponds to the month of May and the 
hour of noon. The time when yang energy has risen midway 
between heaven and earth is called the time of the hare, which 
corresponds to the spring equinox and the hour of six A.M. The time 
when the yin energy has risen halfway between heaven and earth is 
called the time of the bird, which corresponds to the autumn 
equinox and the hour of six P.M. So the rat and the horse are the 
times when yin and yang have just arisen, and the hare and the bird 
are the times when yin and yang are level. These are the rat, horse, 
hare, and bird of the Tao of nature. 

The Tao of alchemy takes the time of the rat as the time to 
advance the yang fire, because when a point of yang light appears in 
the body, it is like the winter solstice in December. When one yang 
subtly arises, one should quickly advance the fire and gather it 
assisting this bit of faint yang to gradually grow and develop, not 
letting it fade away. This is what is called advancing the fire of yang 
in December, or at midnight, the time of the rat. 

The time of the horse is taken to be the time for repelling the yin 
convergence because the arising in darkness of a point of yin energy 
in the body is like the summer solstice in May of the lunar calendar. 
When one yin comes to join, one should quickly work to repel it, 
suppressing this bit of false yin, evaporating it as it grows, not 
letting up for a moment. This is what is called operating the yin 

In reality, yang and yin arise all the time. The arising of yang is 
the time of the rat; the arising of yin is the time of the horse. These 
are the living rat and horse within our bodies, not the dead rat and 
horse of the calendar and clock. Therefore it says that the process 
does not call for set times and the “winter solstice” is not in 
December. The reason it mentions the time of the rat 
(December/midnight) and not the time of the horse (May/noon) is 
that the horse is contained within the rat. An ancient immortal said, 
“No need to look for the rat and the horse in the season or time of 
day; within the body there is naturally one yang arising.” Seeing 
this, we can know that the winter solstice is not in December. 

The Tao of alchemy takes spring and autumn, or six A.M. and six 
P.M., as appropriate for bathing, because after the point of yang light 
in the body has returned, it gradually grows and harmonises with 
yin energy, neither too much nor too little, returning to balance, and 
this is like the yang energy on earth in spring rising to midway 
between heaven and energy at the spring equinox; one should stop 
the firing and make the yin and yang equal and harmonious, not 
advancing the fire excessively - this is the reason for “bathing.” It 
does not mean one should bathe at the spring equinox. And when 
the point of yin energy in the body comes to join, as it grows it 
recedes and joins with yang energy, without imbalance, entering the 
mean. It is also like the yin energy, in autumn rising to midway 
between heaven and earth at the autumn equinox; one should stop 
working and balance the firmness and flexibility, not repelling the 
yin excessively - this is the reason for “bathing.” It does not mean 
one should bathe at the autumn equinox. Therefore, the text says 

that in the rules for bathing, spring and autumn are also metaphors 
without reality. 

Our author’s Understanding Reality says, “When the moon in the 
east and west reaches its season, punishment and reward are at hand; 
medicine is patterned on this.” So we know that when advance and 
recession in the growth of the medicine are spoken of in terms of 
spring and autumn, it does not mean literally that one should bathe 
in spring and autumn. Later people did not know the metaphorical 
language of the alchemical classics and supposed that they mean to 
advance yang in December and at midnight, the month and hour of 
the rat, and to repel yin in May and at noon, the month and hour of 
the horse, then to bathe at the spring equinox and six A.M. and at the 
autumn equinox and six P.M., the months and hours of the hare and 
bird. But if you use the calendar and clock to figure the rat, horse, 
hare, and bird, think of this: the terms rat , horse , hare , and bird are 
applied to years, months, days, and hours alike - which do you take 
for the rule? Isn’t this a big mistake? When our author says that the 
winter equinox is not in December, and that spring and autumn are 
also empty metaphors, he gets rid of the misapprehensions of all 
those who have gone off on tangents, and tells students to make a 
careful distinction based on the real pattern. What can compare to 
that compassion? 




The preceding section says that the firing process and bathing are 
not in the times of the rat, horse, hare, and bird; it is all a matter of 
teaching people to know the harmonisation of essence and sense, the 
same energy of yin and yang. “The raven’s liver” is the vitality of 

the sun; liver is dark, which is associated with wood , and so 
symbolises the essence of conscious knowledge. “The rabbit’s 
marrow” is the light of the moon; marrow is white, which is 
associated with metal, so it symbolises the sense of real knowledge. 
Conscious knowledge and real knowledge, true essence and true 
sense, are the great medicines used in cultivating the elixir. Taking 
these four and putting them together, operating the fire to cook and 
refine them, they transmute into one energy. One energy 
undifferentiated, the living potential is ever-present, unfailingly 
growing from one yang to gradually reach the pure wholeness of six 
yangs, going from vague to clear, the gold elixir developing 
naturally. Here, “grab” does not mean forced action or effort; it 
means causing them to remain and not letting them leave. When 
they stay put, mixed thoughts do not arise and external influences 
do not enter; the four are gathered in one place and do not conflict 
with one another. “Grain after grain” means that when the basis is 
established, the path develops and the yang energy gradually grows; 
it does not literally mean there is the form of grains. 





The preceding section said the elixir can be made by the raven’s 
liver and the rabbit’s marrow. This elixir is nothing but the energy 
of primordial true unity inherent in our original, undifferentiated 
beginning. This energy envelops space, and space envelops the 
world. Enveloping space and the world, its size is measureless; yet 
even though it is measureless, when you search out its root source, it 
is no bigger than a grain. And though it is said to be like a grain, yet 

it is imperceptible and ungraspable: “Vague and indefinable, therein 
is an image; indefinable and vague, therein is something. Dark and 
occult, therein is a vitality; that vitality is most real, therein is true 
experience.” This image, this thing, this vitality, this experience, are 
all what is called the energy of primordial unity. This energy is the 
origin of heaven and earth , the mother of myriad things. It is truly 
empty yet contains ineffable existence, ineffably existing while 
inherently truly empty. It has nothing to do with great or small; it 
cannot be defined as being or nonbeing; it is neither material nor 
vacuous, yet both matter and emptiness. Let it go and it is 
everywhere; roll it up and it hides in mystery. Its concealment and 
revelation are unfathomable; its transmutations are unpredictable. 
How can any concrete object be compared to it? If you know the 
unitary energy within nondifferentiation, when you know the One, 
myriad tasks are done, and practising the Tao is not difficult. 




The preceding section said that one grain can contain space and the 
world. But the reality of this grain is inherent in our body and need 
not be sought elsewhere. It is only necessary to understand how to 
harmonise yin and yang. When yin and yang are not in harmony, the 
energy of primordial unity does not return and the gold elixir does 
not crystallise. 

Observe how when heaven and earth mate, the liquid of reality 
descends and fosters the growth of myriad beings and things; when 
sun and moon mate, the vitality of reality circulates and brings 

about the four seasons. This is when yin does not leave yang and 
yang does not leave yin; yin and yang join, containing the liquid of 
reality and the vitality of reality - only then is there creation. 
Otherwise, solitary yin does not give birth, solitary yang does not 
foster growth; the mechanism of life has ceased, so where can 
creation and evolution come from? 

Our conscious knowledge and real knowledge are the heaven and 
earth and sun and moon in our bodies. Conscious knowledge has 
the yang energy of heaven , so it is heaven. The light emanated by 
the yang energy is like the hollow in the fire trigram =, which 
hollow is the sun. Real knowledge has the yin energy of earth , so it 
is earth. The fine essence secreted by the yin energy is like the 
fullness in the water trigram =-=, which fullness is the moon. So 
heaven and earth, sun and moon, are all inherent in our bodies. It is 
just that people do not know how to harmonise them, so yin and 
yang are separated and the enlivening potential fades away, 
ultimately returning to the Great Flux. 

If you understand that the foundation of water and fire of real 
knowledge and conscious knowledge originally belong to one 
energy, and if you cultivate them backward, inverting water and 
fire , using real knowledge to control conscious knowledge, using 
conscious knowledge to nurture real knowledge, water and fire 
balance each other, movement and stillness are as one; then mind is 
Tao, Tao is mind, mind is the mind of Tao, body is the body of Tao, 
sharing the qualities of heaven and earth , sharing the light of sun 
and moon, sharing the order of the seasons - the whole world is 
within one’s own body. 





The preceding section said that if you understand the foundation of 
water and fire , the great Tao can be attained. Water and fire are 
symbols of real knowledge and conscious knowledge; if you want 
water and fire to balance and settle each other, it is necessary first to 
join metal and wood. 

Essence is associated with wood; dwelling in the east, it is the 
property of the self, and because of its unfathomable fluidity it is 
likened to a dragon. Sense is associated with metal; dwelling in the 
west, it is the property of the other, and because of its unbending 
strength it is likened to a tiger. 

However, essence and sense both have differences in terms of 
being true or false, primal or conditioned. The essence of round 
luminosity and the formless sense are the true primal; the 
temperament and feelings tied to objects are the false and 
conditioned. After we are born, the false mixes in with the true; the 
dragon becomes fierce, the tiger becomes wild, and they dwell 
apart, not communicating. Unless we get rid of the false and rescue 
the true, the great Tao is unattainable. 

When the text says that “the dragon comes from the eastern sea,” 
it means chasing the dragon to the tiger, using essence to seek sense. 
When it says that “the tiger comes from the western mountain,” it 
means leading the tiger and riding the dragon, using sense to return 
to essence. When essence and sense meet, use sense to stabilise 
essence, use essence to control sense; when essence and sense are 
bound together, their fierceness and wildness become docility and 
harmony: the false vanishes and the true returns. Essence loves 
sense, obedient and dutiful; sense loves essence, kind and 
benevolent. When metal and wood , sense and essence, join together, 
this is the complete Original Face without defect. Therefore the text 

says that “the two beasts have a battle and turn into the marrow of 
heaven and earth .” 

The word battle has a deep meaning. Once people’s primal yang 
culminates and mixes with temporal conditioning, the senses and 
their objects as they have been conditioned through history become 
active, and feelings and emotions run amok; add to this the acquired 
energies of habits accumulated in this life, and inside and outside 
are all yin, which cannot easily be stripped away. Without intense 
effort to strip away this conditioning acquired through cultural and 
personal history, how can it be extinguished? Properly speaking, 
battle means vigorous and intense refinement, which effort is not to 
be relaxed until yin is exhausted and yang is pure. “Turning into the 
marrow of heaven and earth ” means pure unity without duality 
when essence and sense have been purged of all pollution; only then 
is the work done. The subtle meaning of this stage is expressed in 
our author’s Understanding Reality in these lines: “The white tiger 
of the western mountains is very wild; the blue dragon of the eastern 
sea cannot stand up to it. Grabbing them with both hands, make 
them engage in mortal combat; they will change into a cluster of 
violet-gold frost.” 

Indeed, essence and sense are not easy to harmonise. It takes 
years of intense effort before it is possible to return to reality. 




The preceding section is on the joining of metal and wood, the union 
of essence and sense; this section immediately follows upon that, 
expressing the effect of the joining of metal and wood. 

“Gold flowers” and “lead twigs” are associated with yang, which 
is firm, and refer to true sense. “Mercury petals” and “jade stems” 
are associated with yin, which is flexible, and refer to true essence. 
The centre of fire = is open; openness is associated with yin, and 
is conscious knowledge. The centre of water is full; fullness is 
associated with yang, and is real knowledge. “Gold flowers bloom 
with mercury petals” means there is flexibility within firmness, 
sense being none other than essence; “jade stems grow on lead 
twigs” means there is firmness within flexibility, essence being 
none other than sense. “ Water and fire have never been separate” 
means that fulfilment contains emptiness and emptiness contains 
fulfilment; real knowledge is conscious knowledge, and conscious 
knowledge is real knowledge. 

Able to be firm, able to be flexible, able to be empty, able to be 
full, firmness and flexibility corresponding, emptiness and 
fulfilment including each other, tranquil and imperturbable yet 
sensitive and effective, sensitive and effective yet tranquil and 
imperturbable, going through the same processes as heaven and 
earth, thus one shares the eternity of heaven and earth - when will 
there ever be distraction? 




The preceding section speaks of the merging of essence and feeling, 
the congealing of real knowledge and conscious knowledge, 
whereupon the elixir forms. But though the medicinal substances 
are easy to know, the firing process is most difficult. If you do not 

know the details of operating the fire, and slip up even a little bit, it 
will cause a tremendous miss and the gold elixir cannot be formed. 

After the elixir has been restored, there is a time for bathing and a 
process of extraction and addition. Before the medicines are 
obtained, one must refine the self to gather medicine; after the elixir 
is obtained, one must bathe to incubate it. Bathing means the work 
of warding off danger. 

An ancient immortal said, “The elixir is restored in a short time; 
incubation requires ten months.” In ten months there are thirty 
thousand intervals; during each interval one keeps attentive to ward 
off danger, like a hen sitting on an egg, like an oyster embracing a 
pearl, focusing single-mindedly on the sphere of attention. One also 
works on extracting lead and adding mercury, carefully guarding 
against any slip-up. If there is any slip-up, this produces falsehood 
within reality; external influences sneak in, and the gold elixir, once 
gained, is again lost, forms but then decays. Then the problem of 
burning the crucible cannot be avoided. 

Therefore in alchemy the work of warding off danger is 
indispensable, start to finish. Warding off danger means preventing 
external influences from creeping in and taking care that the basis of 
the elixir is not damaged. When we speak of warding off danger, the 
work of extraction and addition is therein. Extraction means taking 
out the lead\ addition means putting in the mercury. Before the 
elixir is crystallised, one must use true lead to control true mercury', 
once the mercury is inert and the elixir has crystallised, it is 
necessary to extract this lead energy again before the true mercury 
can become a spiritual jewel. This is because although the true lead 
of real knowledge is something primordial, being produced from 
within the temporal, it carries acquired energy. First one uses real 
knowledge to control and stabilise conscious knowledge, not letting 
conscious knowledge fly off outside; once conscious knowledge is 
stabilised, it is necessary to gradually remove the acquired pollutant 
energy carried by this real knowledge, so that eventually none is left 
at all. Only then is the elixir perfected. If any of that acquired 

energy is not extracted, not removed, conscious knowledge cannot 
become a round and bright jewel. When you take out one part of 
pollutant energy in real knowledge, you add one part of pure energy 
to conscious knowledge; when you take out one hundred percent of 
the polluted energy in real knowledge, you add one hundred percent 
pure energy to conscious knowledge. When polluted energy is 
exhausted and pure energy is stable, the firing is done and energy is 
sufficient; only then do you have the complete luminous jewel of 
real consciousness, round and bright, and nothing else. 

Our author’s Understanding Reality says, “When you use lead, 
do not use ordinary lead ; and when you have finished using the true 
lead, that too is thrown away. This is the real secret of using lead. 
Using lead and not using it - these are veracious words.” This is the 
meaning of extracting lead and adding mercury. 

In essence, the work of extracting and adding is none other than 
the function of warding off danger; extracting and adding are 
precisely that whereby to ward off danger. Avoiding danger, 
extracting and adding, being careful for the ten months, not 
deviating from the correct process, how could the gold elixir not 

As for the “thirty thousand intervals,” it is not that there really is 
a period of ten months; it is just a metaphor for the process from the 
restoration of the elixir to the perfection of the elixir, when the 
spiritual embryo reaches complete maturity. Students should 
investigate the reality and not destroy the meaning by taking the 
words literally. 



The foregoing sections told of the medicines, the firing process and 
the power of practise, in each case using similes from alchemy. The 
author feared that students would not understand the profound 
subtlety therein and would mistakenly enter the circuitous routes of 
auxiliary methods, so he added this section, using the ordinary 
relationship of man and woman, husband and wife, which is 
obvious and easy to see, as a metaphor to instruct people. 

In the path of cultivating reality, the thousand classics and ten 
thousand texts just teach people to harmonise yin and yang, to cause 
yin and yang to merge and return to one energy. Observe how in the 
world husband and wife meet; when they mate, then they can 
produce a child. In cultivation of the Tao, yin and yang meet, and 
then when they mate, they can produce an immortal. 

Our real knowledge is yang within yin; this is the “husband.” Our 
conscious knowledge is yin within yang; this is the “wife.” After the 
primal yang in people culminate, acquired conditioning takes over 
affairs, and the real gets lost outside, as though it lived in another 
house and did not belong to oneself. Though one may have 
conscious knowledge, the wife does not see the husband; yin being 
without the balance of yang, this consciousness has falsehood in it. 
If the husband, real knowledge, is recognised and called back home 
to meet the wife, conscious knowledge, and taken into the privacy 
of the secret room, the husband loves the wife and the wife loves the 
husband; husband and wife mate, sense and essence combine, so the 
primal energy comes forth from within nothingness and congeals 
into the spiritual embryo. Then, adding the work of ten months of 
incubation, when the energy is replete and the spirit complete, it 
emerges from the womb; there is a body outside the body, 
transcending yin and yang, untrammelled by natural process. 

Then one goes on to advanced practise, again setting up the 
furnace and crucible, to carry on the subtle path of nondoing. The 
child gives birth to grandchildren, and the grandchildren also branch 
out, producing a thousand changes, ten thousand transformations. 

Each soars into the skies riding a crane, becoming immortals of the 

This path is entirely the Tao of yin and yang; giving birth to 
people and giving birth to immortals is not apart from yin and yang; 
the only difference is in whether the product is an immortal or an 
ordinary person. As the immortal San-feng put it, going along with 
the usual course of conditioning makes one an ordinary person, and 
going against it makes one an immortal; it is all a matter of 
reversing the process. The method of reversal cannot be known 
without a teacher. One who knows can form the elixir in a short 
time and need not spend three years nurturing it and nine years 
maturing it. But it is necessary to recognise the true yin and the true 

The foregoing explanation has been divided into sections, omitting 
nothing of the meaning. Now, based on the lines of the original text, 
also according to the same sectioning, I present verses for 
explanatory notes, simply phrased but inclusive in meaning, cutting 
through metaphors and images, to let students understand at a 
glance and be further able to comprehend the true interpretation 
without getting involved in speculation. Then most of the secret of 
cultivating reality can be grasped. 



True intent arouses real knowledge; 

Conscious knowledge also spontaneously responds. 
The three join as one, 

And at once body and mind are settled. 


The empty room produces light; 

In quietude yang is restored: 

Gather it and diligently refine it, 

Transforming it into violet-gold frost. 


In the spiritual opening the light of wisdom arises; 
Essence appears, and feelings about objects vanish. 
Clear and bright the jewel that grows in the dark; 
Everywhere is bright and clean. 


Volatility transmutes into true essence; 

The human mind changes into the mind of Tao. 
Without refinement by the spiritual fire, 

How can gold be separated from the ore? 


Real knowledge and conscious knowledge; 

These two are originally the same energy. 

Subjected to refinement by fire, 

They merge without a trace of defect. 


In the occult opening real consciousness appears; 
Take the opportunity to get to work to nurture it. 
When essence and sense cleave to one another, 

They always produce the material for the elixir 


There is an opening of open awareness 

Which is called the opening of the mysterious female; 

Therein are stored spirit and energy, 

Originally the root of the celestial and earthly souls. 


Conscious knowledge is the vitality within fire’, 

Real knowledge is the jewel within water. 

When negativity within water and fire vanishes, 

The light is brilliant, truly sound. 


The spiritual remedy is inherent in oneself; 

What is the need to seek it outside? 

Preserve the responsiveness of constant shining, 

And everywhere you go becomes a forest of jewels. 


Real knowledge is all real, 

But it needs to be espoused by conscious knowledge. 
Refining away he yin of acquired conditioning, 

The two become one whole. 


Conscious knowledge likes to wander outside 
And needs to be governed by real knowledge; 

When the “wife” follows the “husband,” 

Water and fire balance each other. 


Thunder , lake , water , and fire 

Are symbols of vitality, spirit, sense, and essence; 

If you know how to aggregate them, 

You walk alone atop the mountains of the immortals. 


The firing process is not related to hour or season; 

Why bother to seek midnight and noon, winter and summer? 
Bathing is washing the dusty wind; 

How can spring and autumn govern it? 


“Metal” sense and “wood” essence 

Should not be unbalanced or disparate. 

The two are as the same energy; 

The spiritual root blooms of itself. 


So great as to engulf space, 

Yet small as a grain of rice; 

If you ask about this root source, 

It is the one reality alone. 


The vitalities of heaven and earth, sun and moon, 

Are fundamentally inherent in our bodies. 

If reality and consciousness do not stray from each other, 
Creation is always in the palm of your hand. 


When essence arises, sense comes to stabilise it; 

When sense arises, essence goes to lead it. 

When their conflict and struggle are ended, 

Then, as of yore, they are unconditioned. 


Essence and sense merge; 

Real and conscious knowledge join. 

With fierce refinement and gentle cooking, 

A crystal-clear temple is produced. 


Controlling the mind is called bathing; 

Incubation involves extraction and addition. 

At every moment, forestall danger; 

As accomplishment deepens, you naturally enter the mystery. 


When you understand the principle of yin and yang, 

The spiritual embryo is not hard to form; 
Producing a child, also producing grandchildren, 
Eternal life never ends. 

Each section of this classic text on the essence of alchemy is 
sound; each line points to reality. The furnace and crucible, 
medicinal substances, firing process, order of practical cultivation, 
doing and nondoing, from start to finish, are all included. Although 
the text is brief, it contains the overall meaning of the whole text of 
Understanding Reality. 

Now I have explained the symbols and metaphors in this text, 
breaking open the core to see the nucleus, splitting the bones to 
reveal the marrow, in order to shed some light for beginning 
students to guide them into the right path. But I fear that students 
may not know how actually to put it into practise and, not 
consummating the task of a student, may develop false imaginations 
about the great Tao and seek at random, deceiving themselves about 
the path ahead. So here, after having made these explanatory notes 
on the text, I also add Twenty-four Essentials for Students and 
Twenty- four secrets of Alchemy. I phrase them very simply, so that 
what they refer to may be easily recognised, thereby bringing to 
light the secrets of which the ancient teachers did not speak. 

If people of determination can use these essentials and secrets to 
study and understand the text itself, proceeding in order, then those 
who study the Tao will eventually understand the Tao, and those 
who practise the Tao will eventually accomplish the Tao. It is to be 
hoped that people will not waste the months and years rushing into 



See through things of the world. 

If you cannot see through the things of the world, 

You will sink into an ocean of suffering. How can you get out? 


Cut off entanglements. 

If you cannot cut off entanglements, 

The vicious cycles of compulsive habit stand before you. 


Thoroughly investigate principle and meaning. 

If you do not know how to discern the principles of body and 

You cannot distinguish aberration and sanity, and miss the road. 


Find a teacher and associates. 

When you empty the mind, you can fill the belly; 

If you are self-satisfied, you will grow old without development. 


Make determination endure. 

If you want to accomplish something that endures unchanging, 

It requires work that endures unceasing. 


Get rid of anger and hatred. 

If you do not sweep yourself clean of anger and hatred, 

You will be full of turbulence, which will obscure the truth. 


Relinquish attachment to the physical body. 

See the physical body as something temporary and artificial, 
And naturally there will be a way to seek the real body. 


Do not be afraid of hard work. 

With strength of mind, one will be able to climb to the summit; 
If you are afraid of hardship, you will never enter the real. 


Tolerate ignominy and endure dishonour. 

Tolerate ignominy, and though lowly you cannot be surpassed; 
Endure dishonour, and through yielding you can be strong. 


Forgive people and defer to others. 

It is essential to humble oneself and honour others; 

Equanimous deference is a good method. 


Take possessions lightly; take life seriously. 

Ask yourself - even if you pile up mountains of gold, 

Can you buy off impermanence? 


View others and self as the same. 

Others and self have the same source, without high or low; 

If you discriminate between “them” and “us,” you raise of dust. 


Do not be deluded by alcohol or sex. 

If you do not drink, your nature will not be deranged; 

If you are chaste, your life force will be stable. 


Accept hunger and cold as they come. 

Dressing and eating according to circumstances, stop idle 

If you are afraid of hunger and cold, your will won’t be firm. 


Leave life and death to destiny. 

Two things, death and life, depends entirely on nature; 

The one will to seek the Way is always up to oneself. 


Do whatever you can to be helpful. 

Wherever you are, continue to perform worthy deeds; 

Seeing danger, exert your utmost power to help people. 


Do not take liking to excitement. 

It is easy to lose the real in the midst of excitement and glamour; 
In the realms of the senses you can derange your essential nature. 


Do not be proud or complacent. 

Arrogance arouses the hatred of others; 

If you are self-satisfied, you cannot bear the Tao. 


Do not crave fine food. 

Superior people plan for the Way, not for food; 

Inferior people nurture the palate, not the mind. 


Do not talk about right or wrong. 

Everyone should sweep the snow from his own door 
And not be concerned about the frost on another’s roof. 


Do not use intellectual brilliance. 

If you have talent, do not employ it; always be as if inept; 

If you have knowledge, hide it, appearing to be ignorant. 


Sleep less and work more. 

Working by day, cautious by night, effort never ceasing, 

Giving up sleep, forgetting to eat, the will must be firm. 


Do not take liking to fine things. 

Pearls and jade, gold and silver, are things outside the body; 

Vitality and spirit, essence and life, are the fundamental 


Be consistent from beginning to end. 

If you work without strength, it is hard to reach deep attainment; 
Only when you die embracing the Tao do you see reality. 

These twenty-four essentials are important passageways for 
students which must be put into actual practise. When you have 
passed through each one and applied them in your life, only then 
can you meet a real teacher and hear about the great Tao. If there is 
even one that you cannot practise and get through, even if you meet 
a real teacher and hear about the Tao, it is not certain to benefit you. 

The teacher’s function is to polish away errors, to clearly perceive 
and subtly test the student and see whether the student is genuine or 
false. A genuine, sincere person is like real gold, which has no fear 
of fire, become brighter the more it is refined in the fire, being 
appraised by an expert, certified and accepted. 

Someone without will may start out diligently but eventually 
slacks off; outwardly obedient yet inwardly refractory, such people 
will greedily fantasise about the treasures of others without being 
able to carry out their own tasks. This is what is called not getting 

rid of temper, not changing the attitude, falling into the sea of 
vicious cycles; even if you accumulate vast hordes of gold and jade, 
the spirits and immortals will laugh coldly and will not respond. 
Such people cannot even hear the Way, much less accomplish it. 

Those who hear the Way are small sages; those who accomplish 
the Way are great sages. The affair of great sages is certainly not 
within the capabilities of empty obscurantists. 



Repair the alchemical workshop. 

Nourish the temporal; strengthen the physical body. 

To nourish the temporal is the point of departure; 

When vitality, energy, and spirit are vigorous, one can bear 
hunger and cold. 

Having cultivated the physical body until it is firm and strong, 

Giving shelter from rain and wind, it is good for refining the 


Refine the self and set up the foundation. 

Overcome anger and lust; conquer the self and return to 

Refining the self and mastering the mind are building the 

Mundane feelings and idle thoughts are all to be thrown away. 

When you have refined your self to where it does not exist, 

You are imperturbable and unshakable, and cannot be deluded 
By things. 


Set up the crucible and furnace. 

Stabilise the will with firmness; do the work with flexibility. 

Making the will firm and strong is setting up the crucible; 

Gradually progressing in the work is setting up the furnace. 
Firmness and flexibility are both used, without imbalance; 
Having prepared, work the fire and the convergence according to 
the time. 


Cull the medicines. 

Seek the real in the artificial; pick the gold out of sand. 

The great medicines are three - vitality, energy, spirit; 

It is necessary first to distinguish the true from the false. 

The division between right and wrong is slight; 

Be careful not to mix them up. 


Use lead to control mercury. 

When real knowledge is not obscured, conscious knowledge is 
Not flighty. 

Another name for sense is true lead; 

Essence, light and mercuric, is represented as mercury. 

When you understand the method of bringing sense to stabilise 

The human mentality does not arise and the mind of Tao is 


The yellow woman harmonises. 

When true intent does not scatter, yin and yang naturally 

You should know that the true intent is the “yellow woman”; 
Truthfulness alone can harmonise the four forms, 

Aggregating the five elements uses its power; 

Perfecting the being and building life are not apart from it. 


Lead and mercury intermingle. 

Essence goes to seek sense; sense comes back to essence. 
Putting the lead in the mercury, sense returns to essence; 
Putting the mercury in the lead, essence cleaves to sense. 

When sense and essence merge without obstruction, 

There is no worry that the great Way will not be accomplished. 


Work the fire to smelt and refine. 

Activate sane energy; sweep out aberrant energy. 

Gentle cooking and fierce refinement are the methods of 

Fire comes forth in the spiritual furnace, yin and yang, 

Burning away the thousands kinds of pollutants. 

Naturally the great medicines emanate misty light. 


The restored elixir congeals. 

Firmness and flexibility balance each other; essence and sense are 
as one. 

When essence and sense are unified, that is called the restored 

Bright and clear, reality and consciousness join into one whole. 
Having obtained the original priceless jewel, 

Carefully guard it; practise observation of the spirit. 


Bathe and incubate. 

Do not let thoughts arise; do not let attention scatter. 

Washing off defilement and dust is the method of bathing; 

Do not be negligent, do not be forceful, join yin and yang. 

When entanglements do not arise, the basis of the elixir is stable; 
Nurturing the spiritual root, the flower buds are fragrant. 


The basis of the elixir becomes mature. 

Within black there is white; when quietude culminates, there is 

Within black there is white - the herb of long life. 

Within darkness is concealed light - the life-prolonging tonic. 
Refining it into something crystal-clear and pure, 

It penetrates heaven and earth with a ray of light. 


Ingest the gold elixir. 

Gather the spirit into the room, transmuting earthlines s. 

The elixir ingested does not come from outside; 

The refined real consciousness rests within. 

The internal organs produce light; earthly energy is transmuted; 
Without confusion and obscurity, obstacles are broken through. 


Move the furnace and crucible. 

The root source in hand, plant and nature according to the time. 
The gold elixir in hand, there is true transmission; 

Moving the furnace and crucible is a mystery within mystery. 
Henceforth carefully cook the great medicine, 

Refining the primordial within the primordial opening. 


Congeal the spiritual embryo. 

All the spirit gathered, the five elements merge. 

The five energies return to the origin and gather on the spiritual 

The primordial seed is already firmly planted. 

As though an idiot, as though drunk, as though deep asleep, 

In ecstasy and profound abstraction you congeal the spiritual 


Difficulty in the morning, darkness at night. 

Know the male, keep the female; refine with the natural fire. 
Knowing the male, it is also necessary to keep the female. 
Steaming with water and fire is not a matter of the hour. 

There is naturally a pivot which turns over the trigram; 

What is the need to make conscious effort? 


Incubate the embryo. 

Like a hen sitting on an egg, like an oyster embracing a pearl. 
Concentrate single-mindedly, like a hen sitting on an egg; 

Be thoroughly sincere, like an oyster embracing a pearl. 

Hour after hour quietly watch over the aperture of open 

To avoid letting water and fire be isolated in the furnace. 


Forestall danger. 

Externally oblivious of the body, internally oblivious of the mind. 
Before celestial energy is thoroughly pure, there is still danger; 

As long as earthly energy is not exhausted, it is necessary to 
prevent peril. 

If the pollution of acquired conditioning is dissolved away, 

It can be guaranteed that the embryo will not be damaged. 


In ten months the embryo is mature. 

Primordial energy is pure; conditioning is evaporated. 

After ten months of work, the embryo is finally mature; 

When conditioning is all dissolved, the primal is complete. 

Utterly pure and clean, there is nothing else; 

It is one naturalness, neither form nor void. 


Wait for the time to break free. 

No thought, no doing, not obsessed, not indifferent. 
Basically there is a time to break free, transformed; 

It will not do to be too early or too late. 

Truthfulness within reaches outside, not admitting force; 
When a melon is ripe, it naturally separates from the stem. 


The infant emerges. 

Breaking through nondifferentiation, leaping into nothingness. 
Keep still in the yellow court and nurture the valley spirit; 

With body complete and energy replete, the fire is stopped - 
With a peal of thunder, the gate of heaven opens, 

And out leaps the indestructible immortal person. 


Breast-feed for three years. 

Enlightened but not shining, illumined but not using it. 

When real consciousness is refined into a golden body, 

It never ever falls into the dust. 

Nursing it for three years, enlightened but not shining, 

Knowing before and understanding after, the sage is spiritual. 


Exiting and entering at will. 

Body and spirit both sublimated, merging into reality with 
the Tao. 

Body and spirit both sublimated, equal to space, 

Merging in reality with the Tao, all things are penetrated. 
Appearing, hiding, going against or along, no one can fathom it; 
Clustered, there is form; dispersed, the wind. 


Facing a wall for nine years. 

Neither being nor nonbeing stand; the universe is ultimately 

Nine years facing a wall, who is there that knows? 

The work of entering the room does not depend on thought. 
The universe returns to emptiness; ordinary and holy are gone; 
In the realm of silent serenity, the abode of immortals is built. 


The child also produces grandchildren. 

Transformation without end, unfathomable spiritual wonders. 

The child also produces grandchildren; ordinary and sage are the 
same - 

The only distinction is in going along or coming back in reverse. 
Ancient immortals left the secret of a great elixir, 

With endless transformations, getting through everywhere. 

These twenty-four secrets are steps of the process which must be 
thoroughly understood, as the slightest deviation produces a great 
miss. Since ancient times the immortals and real people usually 
have not clearly indicated the order of the process; concealing the 
mother and speaking of the children, they have just instructed 
people by means of metaphors and symbols, fearing pilferage by 
unsuitable people. 

Since I have received spoken instruction from a teacher, at the 
risk of making a mistake I wish to reveal this teaching publicly to 
those who aspire to it. Even if one lacks the power to put it into 
practise, simply getting to hear about the great Way is a measureless 

But such a great task requires people of great strength to carry it 
out; it also requires people to have great character in order to 
perform it. If one has great strength but lacks great character, there 

are likely to arise obstacles that will prevent accomplishment of the 
great Way. 

Therefore, if one wants to traverse this path, one should first build 
character. For mediocre and lesser people, character is more 
important than the path, because if their virtue is not great, even if 
they can hear about the Way they cannot necessarily attain it. 
Students of the Tao should first recognises clearly what these topics 
mean, know the beginning and the end, when to hurry and when to 
relax; only then will they have certain insight and avoid wasting 


• Black and white: 

• Entering the room: 

• Facing a wall: 

• Female and male 

• Gate of heaven: 

• Steaming: 

Primordial and temporal; non- 
differentiation and differentiation; 
transcendence and immanence; 
detachment and involvement. See 
also Female and male. 

Advanced attainment. 

Practising equanimity. 

Receptivity and creativity; 
tranquillity and action. 

In psychophysical Taoist yoga, the 
centre of the top of the head, the 
“opening” from which the spirit is 
projected; metaphysically, the apex 
of consciousness, through which 
one passes into enlightenment. 

Permeation of the being with the 
combination of “water” and “fire” 
(See the introduction and text for the 
significations of water and fire and 
their combination.) 

• Turning over the trigrams: In the unregenerate human beings, 

the order of the water and fire 
trigram is thus: 

Fire Conscious knowledge: 

tends to “fly up,” 
become dissociated 
from true reality. 

Water =-= Real knowledge: 

tends to “flow off,” 
remain unconscious 
and inaccessible. 

For enlightenment, these are 
“turned over” or “inverted”: 

=-= Real knowledge controls 
conscious knowledge. 

Conscious knowledge rises 
to real knowledge. 

• Valley spirit: Open awareness. 

• Yellow court: In psychophysical Taoist yoga, the 

centre of the torso; metaphysically, 
the “centre” in the sense of intent 
(as the force that unifies the being), 
truthfulness, balance, faith. 

Part Two 

Solving Symbolic Language 


The ancient classics on the science of cultivating reality often speak 
of the path of nondoing, but seldom speak of the path of doing. 
However, on the path of nondoing, only those of superior 
knowledge become suddenly enlightened and attain complete 
comprehension, understanding everything in one realisation, 
immediately ascending into the realm of sages. Mediocre and lesser 
people, those who are dull, deeply conditioned, and lacking 
perceptivity, will find that their power is insufficient to practise the 
path of nondoing; they will not be able to transcend all objects and 
reach the goal directly. 

During the latter Han dynasty (second century C.E.) Wei Po-yang, 
a Taoist adept, composed the Triplex Unity ( Ts’an t’ung ch’i ) to 
guide those of middling and lesser faculties. He used images to 
present the imageless, used forms to allude to the formless. This was 
the beginning of the term gold elixir and the technical symbolism of 
lead and mercury, sand and silver, raven and rabbit, dragon and 
tiger, the baby, the girl, medicinal substances, the furnace and 
cauldron, cooking and refining, and so on. 

Later on, many real people who had attained the Tao composed 
alchemical treaties, all based on the Triplex Unity, to expound the 
subtle principles. Their intention was for students in later times to 

use the former to study the latter, and use the latter to understand the 

Nevertheless, later students did not look into the meanings of the 
code words and did not figure out the principles of the symbols. 
Seeing talk of gold elixir, lead, mercury, cauldron, and furnace, they 
thought it referred to the preparation of potions to ingest, and they 
took to chemistry. Seeing talk to raven and rabbit, dragon and tiger, 
they thought it referred to the internal organs, and they took to 
visualisation exercises. Seeing talk of other and self, yin and yang, 
male and female, they thought it referred to forced effort, and they 
took to energy circulation practises. Seeing talk of nondoing to 
cultivate essence, they took it to mean utter quiescence, and they got 
involved in quietism. Seeing talk of doing to cultivate life, they 
thought it meant exercise, and came to cling to form. These and 
other schools arose, all taking a deer to be a horse, taking a crow for 
a phoenix, not only without benefit to essence and life, but even to 
the detriment of essence and life. Could this have been the intention 
of the ancient teachers in using symbolic language? 

Symbols are representations, speaking of one thing to allude to 
something else. To take an example from the field of common 
knowledge and experience, consider the cooking and brewing of 
food and drink. The pot is the “cauldron”; the stove is the “furnace.” 
Water is put in the pot; fire is kindled in the stove. The basic 
tendency of fire is to flame upward, that of water to flow 
downward; when we put the water in the pot above and the fire in 
the stove below, water and fire are thus “reversed” - they 
complement one another, so that the food and drink are cooked and 
brewed. This represents ordinary water and ordinary fire 
complementing each other. 

The strength in people is impetuous and volatile, so it is 
associated with fire; flexibility is relaxed and calm, so it is 
associated with water. Using flexibility to nurture strength, using 
strength to complete flexibility, strength and flexibility match each 
other, so that there is neither haste nor dawdling, effecting a return 

to equipoise, with the result that the Tao is easy to accomplish. This 
is the principle of the mutual complementarity of psychological 
water and psychological fire. Using the image of complementarity 
of ordinary water and fire to represent the principle of 
complementarity of psychological water and fire, that principle is 

Let us consider another example. Suppose a man is originally 
prosperous, but becomes profligate and squanders his fortune; then, 
on the verge of destitution, he repents of his errors, struggles and 
labours for a living again, gradually accumulates substance, and 
eventually re-establishes fortune. This symbolises return to the 
origin. The vitality, spirit, and sacred energy in the human body are 
originally complete and full; mixing with temporal conditioning, 
going along with the process of creation, expends vitality and 
belabours the spirit, so that the basic energy declines and the source 
wanes. If, on the verge of exhaustion, one can turn back, quell anger 
and cupidity, get rid of falsehood and preserve truth, by gradual 
application of effort one can eventually return to the root and restore 
life. This is the principle of return to the origin. Using the image of 
restoration and recovery of a man in the world to represent the 
principle of return to the origin by practise of Tao, that principle is 

To take another example, when a man and a woman mate, they 
are able to produce children, who produce grandchildren; this 
represents the continuing birth of the human Tao. When the yin and 
yang in the human being match and unite, they can produce 
enlightened adepts; this is the principle of continuing birth in the 
alchemical Tao. Using the image of continuing birth of the human 
Tao to represent the principle of continuing birth in the alchemical 
Tao, that principle is clear. 

The alchemical classics all use metaphors to illustrate principles; 
they are telling people to discern from the image the principle to be 
practised, not to turn away from the principle and act on the image. 
It is a pity that people do not investigate the principles, only 

recognising the images. There are very many symbolic expressions 
used in alchemical classics; students should proceed from the 
symbol to discover the principle. When you get the image, forget 
the words; when you get the intent, forget the image. Then you will 
be close. 


Everyone in the world knows the path of “going along,” but not the 
path of “reverse operation.” What is going along? It means going 
along with natural process. What is reversal? It means reversal of 
natural process. Going along with natural process gives birth to 
humans and other beings, the cycle of birth, aging, sickness, and 
death never ceasing. Reversing the natural process produces 
enlightened adepts who are neither born nor perish, having a life 
span equal to that of the universe. 

Ordinarily, after people are born, as they grow up they become 
imbued with temporal conditioning; inwardly, emotions and desires 
distract them from reality, while outwardly objects and events tax 
their bodies. They take the false to be real, take the aberrant to be 
correct, take misery for pleasure; following their desires to any 
lengths, they deplete their original vitality, energy, and spirit almost 
to the point of exhaustion, and thoroughly obscure their inherent 
round and bright true essence, unwilling to stop until they die. 
Therefore they undergo birth after birth, death after death, sunk for 
myriad aeons; this is what is called throwing oneself to one’s death 
even without having been called by the king of death. 

People of great wisdom reverse the operation of the natural 
process; they are not bound by the natural process, not moulded by 
yin and yang, not compelled by myriad things, not changed by 
myriad conditions. Planting lotuses in a fire, hauling a boat through 
mud and water, they make temporary use of things of the world to 
practise the principles of the Tao, by the human Tao completing the 
celestial Tao. They uproot the mundane senses conditioned by 
history and sweep away all acquired influences. They rule their own 

destinies and are not ruled by fate. Restoring the whole, original 
being, they avoid compulsive routine, transcend all worlds, and 
become incorruptible. 

But this celestial mechanism of practising reversal in the midst of 
accord has a secret which is communicated verbally and transmitted 
mentally; one must seek the guidance of a true teacher, for it cannot 
be known through arbitrary guesswork. Students all over the world 
use their own meagre light and narrow views, memorise a few 
sayings, ponder a few mystical stories, and think they know the Tao; 
seeking no further for guidance, they become charlatans, self- 
appointed preachers who are blind themselves and take in others 
who are blind. It is wrong to do this. 

There are also mixed-up people who cannot recognise true 
teachers and go from one imbecile to another learning a few minor 
techniques and imagine they have the Tao; then, when enlightened 
people appear before them, they are unwilling to humble themselves 
to learn. They perform various practises at random: some consider 
descent of energy in the heart and ascent of the energy in the 
genitals to be the practise of reversal; some consider the circulation 
of energy up the spine and down the front of the body to be the 
practise of reversal; some consider sending the vitality up to boost 
the brain to be the practise of reversal; some consider holding the 
breath and steadying the spirit to be the practise of reversal; some 
consider taking sexual energy from women to vitalise men to be the 
practise of reversal; some consider having the man below and the 
woman above to be the practise of reversal. There are thousands of 
such methods; they are all contrary to the path of sages and are not 
reverse operation of the natural process. They are all ways to death, 
not to life. 

What such people do not realise is that reversal means going back 
to the origin of life. It is like someone who has left home and gone 
far away turning around and returning home. Although it is called 
reverse action, in fact it is action in accord with principle, so it is 
great accord within reversal. It is called reversal because it goes 

contrary to the course of action of ordinary people. Those who have 
taken to auxiliary methods, with all their intricacies, have been 
confused by the word reversal and have come to do all sorts of 
practises in the physical sphere. In the end they will fall into 
emptiness. Is this not foolish? 


When the alchemical classics and writings of the masters speak of 
gathering medicines and refining gold elixir, they are referring to 
primordial, formless, immaterial realities, not a mundane, physical, 
material medicines and not to substances in the human body. 

After people are born, they accept the false and lose the real, 
expending their naturally complete treasure to the point of 
exhaustion, so that the body becomes pure mundanity, full of 
aberrant energies, as if afflicted with a serious illness, death being 
just a matter of time. Because of this, if not for genuine effective 
“medicine,” they have no way to restore the mundane to the celestial 
and preserve essence and life. 

What is genuine effective medicine? It is primordial, true, unified 
energy; it is primordial vitality, energy, and spirit, the “three 
treasures.” The primordial, true, unified energy is also called true 
seed. It does not descend into material form; it is ultimate nonbeing 
yet contains ultimate being, is ultimate emptiness yet contains 
ultimate fulfilment. Truly empty yet subtly existing, it governs the 
three treasures of vitality, energy, and spirit. 

The three treasures are also not physical things but formless 
realities. As an ancient adept said, the vitality is not sexual vitality, 
the energy is not metabolic energy, the spirit is not the thinking 
mind. Though they are three, the treasures all return to one 
primordial energy; the three combine into one energy, the one 
energy differentiates into three. 

Gathering medicines means gathering these three treasures of one 
energy; operating the fire of reality to refine them, one produces 
elixir which transmutes all mundane energies in a person, returning 

to unadulterated celestial energy, the pure, undefiled original being. 
It is like a person with an illness using medicine to cure it and 
become well. 

Medicine here is a metaphor, but students in later generations 
took the alchemical classics literally and thought the medicines were 
material substances; they gathered herbs in the mountains and 
compounded them into potions, vainly hoping for long life. Some 
gathered minerals and cooked them into elixirs, which they 
ingested, imagining they would thereby become able to fly aloft. 
What they did not realise was that material medicines can only cure 
physical ailments and cannot cure immaterial ailments. Immaterial 
sickness can only be cured by gathering the primordial, true, unified 

The Triplex Unity says, “It is easy to work with what is of the 
same species, hard to work with what is not of the same kind.” 
Understanding Reality says, “When bamboo breaks, you need 
bamboo to mend it; if you want to hatch chickens, you need eggs. 
Whatever is not of the same kind is a waste of effort; how can that 
compare to true lead combining with the potential for sagehood?” 
The true lead is precisely this primordial, true, unified energy; all 
those who take ordinary drugs to be herbs of immortality should 
wake up when they read this. 


The “firing process” spoken of in the alchemical classics and 
writings of the masters is a metaphor for the order of practical 
spiritual work. Generally speaking, in spiritual work there is that 
which comes first and that which comes later; there are times for 
relaxation and hurry, advance and withdrawal. It will not do to put 
off for later what must be done first, or to do first what must be 
done later; it will not do to relax when one should hurry, or to hurry 
when one should relax. It will not do to withdraw when one should 
advance, or to advance when one should withdraw. It is as when one 
cooks medicines over a fire, there are times for gentle firing, intense 

firing, and stopping at sufficiency. So the order of application of 
effort in cultivation of reality is represented as a “firing process.” 

However, the firing process of spiritual work is not a matter of 
years, months, days, or hours; it applies to every moment - doing 
first what should be done first, doing later what should be done 
later, hurrying when one should hurry, relaxing when one should 
relax, advancing when one should advance, withdrawing when one 
should withdraw, shifting effectively at the appropriate times. 

What should be done first is to establish inward discipline; what 
should be done after that is to deflect externals. When one should 
hurry is when applying effort; when one should relax is when gently 
nurturing. When one should advance is when celestial energy is 
insufficient and should be advanced; when one should withdraw is 
when mundane energy arises and should be withdrawn. 

This is the true principle of the firing process. It is not the yogins’ 
theory of advancing the yang fire at midnight, withdrawing the yin 
convergence at noon, and bathing at six A.M. and six P.M. It is also 
not the theory of advancing the yang fire at the winter solstice, 
withdrawing the yin convergence at the summer solstice, and 
bathing at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. 

The natural world has its own times, and humans have their own 
times; the times of the natural world cannot be precisely identified 
with human times. Winter, summer, spring, fall, midnight, noon, six 
in the morning, and six in the evening - in the human being, these 
times are present at every juncture. An ancient classic says, “No 
need to look for midnight and noon in the sky; there is arising of 
yang within the body.” The arising of yang is midnight/winter 
solstice; the arising of yin is noon/summer solstice. Yang joining 
yin is six A.M./vemal equinox; yin joining yang is six P.M./autumnal 
equinox. These are the living times and seasons, not the lifeless 
times and seasons of the calendar. 

The firing process as explained in the sixty-four hexagrams of the 
I ching also indicates the principles of advancement and withdrawal 
of yin and yang, teaching people to make adjustments according to 

the situation, adapting effectively in application of effort; it does not 
teach people to practise according to the sequence of the sixty-four 
hexagrams. Understanding Reality says, “Setting up symbols in the 
hexagrams is based on descriptions of the modes; understanding the 
symbol, forget the words - the idea is clear of itself. The whole 
world is astray, only clinging to symbols, acting out the energies of 
the hexagrams in hopes of flying aloft.” 

When reading such books, you should understand the ancients’ 
intent in choosing symbols and making verbal formulations; once 
the meaning is realised, the symbol can be forgotten. The thousands 
of books on the path of cultivating reality are all in symbolic 
language; though the images they choose are not the same, they are 
all used to clarify yin and yang, going along and reversing, the 
medicines, real and false, and the order of the firing process. They 
do not talk about anything other than this. 

Since I have truly understood the meanings in the symbols 
through the guidance of teachers, I dare not keep this knowledge to 
myself and want to make it public, for those of discernment. 
Therefore I have taken essential points from the alchemical classics 
and produced diagrams to communicate their reality, analysing and 
clarifying right and wrong to resolve students’ doubts. The rest may 
be deduced by analogy. 

I. The State in the Womb 




Before one’s parents give birth to one’s body, when the yin and 
yang energies of male and female interact, in the midst of darkness 

there is a point of living potential, which comes forth from nothing. 
This is what is called the primordial, true, unified generative energy. 
This energy enters into the sperm and ovum, fusing them into one: 
formless, it produces form; immaterial, it produces substance. The 
internal organs, the organs of sense, and the various parts of the 
body evolve, all becoming complete naturally. Even the mother who 
carries the unborn child does not know how this happens as it does. 

Inexperienced students, unaware of this principle, imagine that 
when people are in the womb their umbilical cord conveys the 
mother’s breath, so that the foetus exhales when the mother exhales 
and inhales when the mother inhales, gradually evolving and 
forming. This is not so. Respiration is acquired energy; how can 
acquired energy cause the sperm and ovum to evolve into a body? 
And how could breath enter into the womb? What they do not 
realise is that in the mother’s womb there is only the primal point of 
generative energy, undifferentiated, which first causes the embryo to 
congeal, then nurtures the embryo, and eventually causes it to 
become complete. The whole process is accomplished by this 
generative energy, with nothing else mixed in. 

At this point, though there is the human form, there is no human 
way; nothing in the world, not even water, fire, or weapons, can 
harm one here. Emotions and desire cannot reach one here. 
Ultimately, in reality there is just openness alone. When the ancient 
immortals taught people to practise the Tao to return to what they 
were like before their parents gave birth to them, they meant 
returning to the state of openness, beyond sense. Where there is no 
sense is the ultimate of nonbeing. The ultimate of nonbeing is the 
extreme of nothingness, where there is only nonbeing. 

2 . The State of the Infant 




After ten months in the womb, the foetus is fully developed; like 
a ripe melon falling off the stem, the foetus breaks out of the 
amnion and emerges, feet toward the sky and head toward the earth. 
With a cry the infant first comes in contact with the air, breathing it 
in so that it mixes with the primordial original energy within. The 
primordial is the body; the temporal is the function. The temporal 
depends on the primordial to breathe in and out, while the 
primordial depends on the temporal to nurture the vascular system. 

Furthermore, at the moment of that cry, the conscious spirit of the 
generations of history also enters into the opening and merges with 
the primordial original spirit. The original spirit depends on the 
conscious spirit to subsist, while the conscious spirit depends on the 
original spirit for effective awareness. 

Nevertheless, though the newborn infant has acquired energy and 
acquired spirit, still the primordial governs the temporal and the 
temporal obeys the primordial. The primordial and the temporal 
merge into nondifferentiation; without discrimination or cognition, 
there is one reality alone. 

When the ancient immortals taught people to find out the point of 
birth, they meant to find out the beginning of birth, which is to find 
out the appearance of the infant. Deluded people, not knowing this, 
have erroneously said that “the point of birth” means the woman’s 
birth canal. This is wrong. The beginning of birth, the appearance of 
the infant, means pure clarity, without blemish; this is the germ and 

embryo of sages, the root and sprout of immortals and buddhas. 
Here one is ungraspable and invulnerable, because one is mindless. 

Being mindless, one is not hindered by birth and death; there are 
no calamities, no troubles. This is the image of the culmination of 
beginning. The culmination of beginning is the final limit of 
beginning, before getting mixed up in temporal conditioning. 
Though merged with the temporal, it is the primordial alone which 
controls things. This is because it is at the culmination of beginning; 
it is beginning as it springs from nonbeing. 

3 . The State of the Child 





After a person has grown from infancy to the point where he can 
walk, speak, and follow others’ directions, he is called a child. The 
infant has no discrimination or cognition, but the child already has 
discrimination and cognition, so it is as if floating clouds are dotting 
the sky. Having discrimination and cognition derives from the 
culmination of beginning eventually reaching the culmination of the 
great. The culmination of the great means the limit of the universal, 
which must be followed by the arising of the particular; when yang 
culminates, it must shift to yin. At this moment, however, the 
particular has not yet come, yin has not yet arisen; it is still the 
primordial that does things, while the acquired is latent. Though 
there is discrimination and cognition, the encrustation of the 
faculties has not yet taken place and acquired influences have not 
yet invade; when hungry, one just eats, and when cold, one just puts 
on clothes. Joy, anger, sadness, and happiness come and go, 

vanishing as they arise; one does not know about differences of 
wealth and status, but is spontaneous and has no extraneous 

This, too, is the germ and embryo of sages, the root and sprout of 
immortals and buddhas. The ignorant consider the child to be the 
infant, but this is wrong. They both are imbued with natural reality, 
but they are different in terms of state, the infant being higher and 
the child lower, and they are also different in terms of intellectual 
knowledge, which the infant does not have but the child does. 
Therefore, to represent return to the origin, the ancient immortals 
chose the fundamental aspect of the infant and not the naive aspect 
of the child. 

4 . Yin and Yang Divide 



After people grow from childhood to the point where the energies 
of the two eights are complete, yang culminates and yin arises, 
opening an aperture; yin and yang divide, each dwelling on one 
side. Then there is artificiality within the real; here intellectual 
knowledge gradually develops, and good and bad are discriminated. 
This is the division of the culmination of the universal, 
dichotomising yin and yang. 

The completion of the energies of the two eights is like the upper 
and lower crescents of the moon joining into one shining orb, which 
symbolises the culmination of primordial yang, like the culmination 
of the great, the culmination of the universal. When yang 

culminates, it must turn to yin, as when the universal culminates, 
unity divides into yin and yang, which separates as two. 

The ignorant take such talk of two eights and production of yin to 
mean a boy’s emission of yin vitality (semen) at the age of sixteen. 
This is wrong. Considering how some boys emit semen at fourteen 
or fifteen, some at sixteen or seventeen, and some at eighteen or 
nineteen, since there is no set age for this, we know that the two 
eights refer not to people’s age but to the fullness of energy. 

5 . The Five Elements Separate 






Once yin and yang divide, the five elements also become 
aberrated. The five elements - metal , wood, water, fire, and earth - 
represent sense, essence, vitality, spirit, and energy. In the primal 
state, these elements foster one another in harmonious union and are 
manifested in action as the five virtues of benevolence, justice, 
courtesy, wisdom, and truthfulness. 

In the conditioned state, the five elements are imbalanced and 
damage each other; this manifests in action as the five rebels of joy, 
anger, sadness, happiness, and desire. 

When the five elements are united, the five virtues are present and 
yin and yang are one. When the five elements are fragmented, the 
five rebels rise up and yin and yang are confused. 

Once the five elements separate, discriminatory awareness 
gradually arises, and the encrustation of the senses gradually takes 

place; the real retreats and the artificial assumes authority. Now 
even the state of the child is lost. 

The ignorant assign the five elements variously to five internal 
organs, but this is wrong. The five internal organs, having form and 
substance, are inns for the conditioned five elements, not the 
gardens of virtues of the primal five elements. If you identify the 
five organs with the five elements, how can the five organs divide 
and unite? 

The five elements differ in being either primal or conditioned; the 
primal originate before birth, the conditioned emerge after birth. 
The primal produce sages, the conditioned produce ordinary people. 
Though the five elements are divided into primal and conditioned, 
they are all alive and do not have fixed positions. 

6 . Acquired Conditioning Runs Affairs 





Yin and yang divided, the five elements separated, once 
conditioning mixes in, the primordial retreats; at this point the 
acquired temperament emerges, and external impacts come and 
condition the senses, which then beckon emotions and desires. 
Pristine purity is gradually invaded by mundane energy. Once 
mundane energy enters, it gradually grows, and celestial energy 
gradually wanes away. Indulgently pursuing desires, one eventually 
becomes totally subservient to them. 

The ignorant think that the temperament is the real nature, but 
this is not so. The real nature is the nature as divinely decreed and 
belongs to the primordial; this is beneficial to people. The 

temperament is the nature created by people and emerges from 
acquired conditioning; this is harmful to people. How can acquired 
nature be identified with primal nature? 

7 . Pure Mundanity, Nothing Celestial 






As acquired conditioning runs affairs, mundanity increases and 
the celestial retreats, day after day, year after year. Inwardly, myriad 
thoughts cause trouble; outwardly, myriad things coerce. Under 
inward and outward attack, the celestial energy wanes away and the 
whole being becomes totally mundane; as the three treasures are 
depleted, the life forces cannot be sustained, and death is inevitable. 

Ignorant people think that when they end their days and die is a 
matter of fate, but this is not so. What human life depends on is 
positive energy; as long as any positive energy at all remains, one 
does not die. And as long as negative energy is incomplete, one 
does not die. If one goes along and lets the negative mundane 
energy extinguish the positive celestial energy, this is looking for 
the way of death on one’s own - what has it got to do with fate? 

The foregoing seven diagrams represent the process of producing 
humans, going along with the usual natural process: the next seven 
represent the process of producing immortals, reversing the usual 
natural process. 

I. Refining the Self, Setting Up the Foundation 




The path of cultivating reality is the path of restoration and 
return. Restoration means causing the self which has gone to come 
back; return means regaining the celestial positivity which has been 
lost. This means restoration and return of the original, real celestial 
positivity in the midst of total mundanity. 

Once people’s conditioning runs affairs, they become totally 
mundane, so the primordial celestial energy wanes away to the 
verge of exhaustion. Without the work of restoration, how can that 
which is lacking be recovered, how can that which is lost be 

The work of restoration begins with refining the self and setting 
up the foundation. Refining self means burning away temporal 
accretions encrusting the senses, temperamental biases, and all 
acquired energies with which one has become imbued by 
habituation. This means quelling anger and cupidity, conquering the 
self, and returning to order. 

If one can quell anger and cupidity, conquer oneself, return to 
order, one will be free from wishful thinking and rumination, and 
will be imperturbable and unwavering. This fundamental stability is 
like the necessity of building a foundation first when you build a 
house; when the foundation is strong and stable, it will be able to 
sustain the weight of the house as it is built. So self-refinement is in 
setting up the foundation; setting up the foundation is not other than 

The ignorant think that refining the self means guarding the heart 
and that setting up the foundation means stopping the flow of 
semen. This is wrong. The work of self-refinement is only finished 

when mundanity is ended and the celestial is pure; until this is 
accomplished, the work cannot be stopped. If one thinks that 
guarding the heart and stopping the flow of semen are refining the 
self and setting up the foundation, how will one be able to complete 
the great work of the gold elixir? 

An ancient immortal said, “Restoring the elixir takes place at 
once; refining the self requires ten months.” So we know it is not a 
matter of guarding the heart and stopping the semen. 

2 . The Natural, Innocent True Mind 




Refining the self and setting up the foundation are not a matter of 
forced control, forced effort, or austere practises. What the work 
requires is first to recognise the natural, innocent true mind, and 
then to use this true mind to refine the self. Then a point of celestial 
energy emerges within the darkness; this is called true 
consciousness. When the true consciousness appears, right and 
wrong, false and true, are distinctly clear; one will not be compelled 
by desire for things and will not be influenced by sense objects, so 
self-refinement is very easy. 

If one cannot find the true mind, then false and true will not be 
distinguished, right and wrong will not be clear; so even if one uses 
the mind to control the mind, after all it is the human mind at work, 
with repression and force. This is what is meant by the saying. “If 
you try to get of errant thoughts, that will increase the ailment; to try 
to head for reality is also amiss.” How can one reach the selfless 
state in this way? 

The ignorant mistake the human mentality for the true mind. This 
is wrong. The true mind is mindless; only the mindless mind is the 
naturally innocent mind. With this natural innocent mind, one will 
have no trouble mastering oneself. The Hundred Character 
Inscription says, “Knowing the original progenitor in action and 
repose, having no concern, who else do you seek?” San-feng said, 
“When building the foundation, you should use the bellows; when 
refining the self, you need the true lead.” The original progenitor, 
the bellows, and the true lead, are all different names for the natural, 
innocent true mind. 

Ah, but is the natural, innocent true mind easy to know? If you 
know it, then by attaining this one thing, myriad tasks are done. 

3 . The Celestial Grows, the Mundane Wanes 




Having found the natural, innocent true mind, the autonomous 
host sits peacefully in the centre. Effort for the Tao decreases daily, 
while accomplishment increases daily. The celestial energy 
gradually grows; the force of mundanity gradually wanes. Growing 
and growing, waning and waning, until there can be no more growth 
or waning, this is the ultimate accomplishment. 

The ignorant think that by sitting quietly, inactive, tranquil, 
indifferent, empty, the celestial energy will increase of itself and the 
force of mundanity will decrease of itself. This is wrong. The 
restored elixir is the restoration of the celestial within the mundane. 
If you want to restore the celestial by quiet sitting without action 

and tranquil indifference, how can the celestial return by itself, how 
can the mundane withdraw by itself? 

Understanding Reality says, “Even if you know the cinnabar and 
lead, if you do not know the firing process, it is useless. It all 
depends on the power of practise; the slightest deviation, and you 
will fail to crystallise the elixir.” By this we can know the way to 
foster the celestial and withdraw the mundane. 

4 . Assembling the Five Elements 




For the celestial to grow and the mundane to wane requires 
knowledge of assembling the five elements; when the five elements 
are assembled, the great Tao may be aspired to. The work of 
assembling is a matter of extracting the primordial five elements 
from the midst of the conditioned five elements. The conditioned 
five elements overcome one another, while the primordial five 
elements foster one another. When the five elements foster one 
another, they are integrated with the celestial design; this is the five 
elements as one energy, the combining of the four signs. 

Ignorant people think that assembling the five elements means 
mentally drawing the energies of the heart and genitals up and down 
to mix with each other, and conveying the energies of the liver and 
lungs left and right to join each other. This is wrong. The energies 
of the internal organs are physical, and whatever is physical is 
acquired; it becomes, and so also decays. How can this crystallise 
the permanent, indestructible jewel of life? 

5 . Yin and Yang Merge 





The five elements particularise from within yin and yang. When 
the five elements are assembled and united, this means yin and yang 
merge into one. When yin and yang merge, the gold elixir forms; 
this is the state of the child. 

Nevertheless, the energy of acquired conditioning has still not 
disappeared. Yet even though the energy of acquired conditioning 
has not yet disappeared, since the primordial has been restored, 
conditioning submits to it and cannot cause harm. By doing yet 
another level of work from this point on, the gold elixir can be 

The ignorant think that the merging of yin and yang means that 
mixing of the heart and genitals energies, or the meeting of the 
active and passive energy channels, or the intercourse of man and 
woman. This is wrong. The gold elixir is made by the crystallisation 
of the energy of primordial nothingness; it cannot be formed by 
temporal, physical substances. 

6 . Unified Energy 





When yin and yang return to integral completeness, the state of 
the child is already restored; from this point on the natural fire of 
reality operates to burn away residual conditioning and return to the 
state where there is no discriminatory knowledge, where the spirit is 
secreted and the energy clusters. This is what is referred to as a man 
being pregnant, the “foetus” being the state of the infant. This is the 
point where the living body becomes imbued with energy; this is the 
edge of the beginning, and it is also called the universal One 
containing true energy. 

Ignorant people think that formation of the spiritual embryo is 
done by ingesting mineral or vegetable substances. This is wrong. 
What is formed by ingesting mineral or vegetable substances is no 
more than clumps of blood and flesh. This only promotes death, and 
there is no hope of anything else. 

7. Absolutely Open Nothingness 




When the spiritual embryo has formed, then one applies ten 
months of incubation, the work of gently nurturing it, operating the 
natural fire of reality to forge and refine it from vagueness to clarity, 
from weakness to strength. When the cluster of mundanity has been 
stripped away, the embryo is fully developed, the elixir is done; like 
a ripe melon dropping off the vine, one suddenly breaks through the 
undifferentiated, bursts out with the pure spiritual body, leaps into 
the realm of absolutely open nothingness, and transcends world. 
This is the state before birth, and is also the state of the endless. 

When the path leads back to the endless, body and mind are both 
sublimated and one merges in reality with the Tao. This is as much 
as a person can do. 

The ignorant project the spirit by staring in mirrors, by silently 
concentrating on the top of the head, or by facing a wall and 
forgetting the body. This is wrong. The spirit liberated by the gold 
elixir is the celestial spirit, while the spirit projected by all the 
quietistic practises is the mundane spirit. The celestial spirit is 
eternal, unborn and unperishing; the mundane spirit, not having 
undergone refinement, is subject to reincarnation. Unless one attains 
the science of the gold elixir to transform it, even if one can project 
and recall the mundane spirit at will and can know the past and 
future, one cannot escape transmigration. This is referred to by the 
saying, “Even if you last thousands of aeons, in the end you will fall 
into utter destruction.” 

These last seven diagrams represent the process of producing 
immortals, reversing the usual natural process. The foregoing 
fourteen diagrams give a general idea of going along with creation 
and reversal of creation. Following this I will bring up essential 
symbolic terms, distinguish correct and erroneous interpretations, 
and give the true meanings, so that students may understand 
analogous terms. 

The Gold Elixir 


Gold is something stable and incorruptible; an elixir pill is 
something round, complete, luminous, pure, without defect. Ancient 
immortals used the term gold elixir as a metaphor of the essence of 
true consciousness, which is fundamentally complete and illumined. 

In Confucianism, this essence is called the universal ultimate; in 
Buddhism, it is called complete awareness; in Taoism, it is called 
the gold elixir. Though there are three names, the reality is one. 
Confucians who cultivate this become sages; Buddhists who 
cultivate this become buddhas; Taoists who cultivate this become 
immortals. The adepts of all three teachings consider the 
fundamental true essence to be the basis of attainment of the Way. 

The ignorant who do not know this consider the gold elixir to be a 
potion made from minerals. This is wrong. The true essence is 
matured through firing in the furnace of Creation, and lasts as long 
as heaven and earth , having the same light as sun and moon; how 
can it be made by mundane material substances? 

The Heart of Heaven and Earth 





The first essential step in cultivating reality is to find the heart of 
heaven and earth. The heart of heaven and earth , the universal 
mind, is what has been previously referred to as the natural, 
innocent true mind. This mind is subtle and recondite, and is not 
easily manifested; it only shows a glimpse when “light appears in 
the empty room” and “within darkness, suddenly there is 

Heaven is associated with yang, earth is associated with yin; the 
heart of heaven and earth is the mind in which yin is not separate 
from yang, yang is not separate from yin, yin and yang are merged. 
When yin and yang are conjoined, this mind is present; when yin 
and yang separate, this mind is absent. It is not form, nor void, yet 
both form and void; it is not being, not nonbeing, yet both being and 
nonbeing. Form and void interpenetrate, being and nonbeing cannot 
be established; this is ineffable existence within true emptiness. 
When you know this mind and keep it intact, the overall basis is 
already established and the rest is easy. 

The ignorant who do not know this all manipulate the awareness 
physical heart; some consider the active mind the heart of heaven 
and earth, some consider the still mind the heart of heaven and 
earth, some think the mind dwelling on the middle of the torso is 
the heart of heaven and earth. This is all wrong. The avaricious 
heart is the conditioned human mind with personal desires; the 
active mind clings to existence, the still mind clings to nothingness, 
the dwelling mind fixes on form. These minds are as far from the 
heart of heaven and earth as mud is from the clouds. 

The heart of heaven and earth is unified in action and stillness, is 
tranquil and unperturbed yet sensitive and effective, is sensitive and 
effective yet tranquil and unperturbed. How could it refer to the 
physical, avaricious heart? 

The Crescent Moon Furnace 




The crescent moon is the moon in the beginning of its phase, 
beginning to shine again after having become totally dark; this 

symbolises the sudden manifestation of the celestial root in people 
when they have attained utter stillness. This celestial root is called 
the mind of Tao. A furnace is a vessel in which fire is used; because 
the mind of Tao has a celestial light which can be used to burn away 
a person’s mundanity, the mind of Tao is also represented as a 
furnace. Actually, the mind of Tao is the heart of heaven and earth; 
in terms of substance it is called the heart of heaven and earth; in 
terms of function it is called the mind of Tao. The two names refer 
to the same thing. 

The ignorant who do not know this observe the crescent shape of 
the Chinese character for heart and erroneously consider the 
physical heart to be the crescent moon furnace. Also, those who 
practise sexual yoga consider the vulva to be the crescent moon 
furnace. These interpretations are both wrong. The crescent moon 
furnace is the light of the mind of Tao shining; where this light 
shines, all falsehood vanishes and one can become a sage and an 

Tz’u-yang said, “Stop wasting your time by an alchemical stove; 
to refine the elixir you must seek the crescent moon furnace.” He 
also said, “In the crescent moon furnace, jade flowers grow; in the 
cinnabar crucible, mercury is level. After harmonious blending by 
the power of fire, the seeds have yellow sprouts which gradually 
grow and develop.” By this we can know the meaning of the 
crescent moon furnace. 

The Cinnabar Crucible 





Cinnabar is the colour of fire. Because fire can refine things, 
getting rid of old encrustation and restoring them like new, the 
phenomenon of fire, represented by a cinnabar crucible, most 
efficacious, most miraculous, able to transmute things, symbolises 
the spiritual illumination in people, which shines everywhere and 
accomplishes everything. 

But there is the original spirit, and then there is the discriminating 
spirit. The discriminating spirit can frustrate the Tao, the original 
spirit can attain the Tao. Because of the encrustation of the faculties 
of the discriminating spirit through its history, it uses the awareness 
of the original spirit to create illusions, never stopping until the loss 
of essence and life. 

Practise of the universal science requires using the original spirit 
to control the discriminating spirit. When the discriminating spirit 
does not arise, aberrant fire goes out; when aberrant fire goes out, 
true fire arises. When true fire arises, the harmonious energy is 
fertile and the mechanism of life does not cease; so there is hope of 
attaining the universal Tao. 

The ignorant who do not know this mistake the conscious 
discriminating spirit for the original spirit. This is wrong. The 
original spirit is the nonpsychic spirit, its consciousness most real, 
its reality most conscious. The conscious discriminating spirit is the 
psychic spirit; though conscious, there is artificiality in it. 
Consciousness in the midst of artificiality is the seed of compulsive 
habit and routine. An ancient adept said, “The root of infinite ages 
of birth and death, the ignorant call the original being.” The root of 
birth and death is this discriminating spirit. 

The Opening of the Mysterious Female 




Mysterious stands for yang, for strength, for action; female stands 
for yin, for flexibility, for stillness. The opening of the mysterious 
female is the aperture of yin and yang, the door of strength and 
flexibility, the gate of action and stillness; it has no direction, no 
location, no shape, no form. It is like an opening huge in space, 
where the five elements cannot reach, where the physical elements 
cannot touch. Ultimate nonbeing, it contains ultimate being; 
ultimate emptiness, it contains ultimate fulfilment. This is the 
opening within the conjunction of yin and yang. 

The ignorant who do not know this take mouth and nose to be the 
mysterious female. This is wrong. The mouth and nose are the gate 
through which the breath exits and enters, not the gate through 
which yin and yang enter. When yin and yang conjoin, they produce 
immortals and buddhas; can the air breathed in and out produce 
immortals and buddhas? Understanding Reality says, “Few are they 
who know the opening of the mysterious female; do not act at 
random with the nose and mouth.” 

The Opening of the Mysterious Pass 



The mysterious pass is a most recondite and abstruse passageway. 
It is also called the door of life and death, the chamber of vivifying 
and killing, the border of divinity and humanity, the gate of 
punishment and reward, the opening of being and nonbeing, the lair 
of spirit and energy, the ground of emptiness and fulfilment, the 
crossroads, and many other names. All of these terms depict this one 
opening. The mysterious pass is another name for the mysterious 
female. Because its recondite subtlety is unfathomable, it is called 
the mysterious pass; because yin and yang are herein, it is called the 
mysterious female. Really it is just this one opening. 

The ignorant who do not know this sometimes take the space 
below the heart and above the genitals to be the mysterious pass; 
some consider the centre of the umbilical region to be the 
mysterious pass; some call the coccyx the mysterious pass; some 
take the centre of the spine, where it joins the ribs, to be the 
mysterious pass. These are all wrong. The mysterious pass has no 
fixed position; if it had a fixed position, it would not be the 
mysterious pass. 

Ch’en Hsu-pai referred to the point where thought arises as the 
mysterious pass; this seems to be correct, but really is not. The point 
where thought arises already has fallen into the realm of temporal 
form; how can it be considered the mysterious pass? 

I now clearly point out to you that the mysterious pass lies in 
subtle abstraction, where being and nonbeing interpenetrate. 

Understanding Reality says, “Seek the image of being in the subtle; 
seek the true vitality in the recondite. From this being and nonbeing 
interpenetrate; before you have seen it, how can you imagine it?” 
Also, the Four Hundred Words on the Gold Elixir says, “This 
opening is not an ordinary aperture; made by Heaven and Earth 
together, it is called the lair of spirit and energy. Within are the 
vitalities of Water and Fire.” These passages truly point out the 
opening of the mysterious pass. 

The Valley Spirit 




The valley spirit is the spirit of open valleys. Between two high 
mountains is a valley; when people shout into it, the valley conveys 
their voices, so it is called the valley spirit. In Taoist practise this is 
used to symbolise the spirit of open awareness in people. This is 
because when the mind is open it is effectively aware; if it is not 
open, it is not effectively aware. The effective awareness comes 
from openness; this is called the valley spirit. 

Spiritual means formless, imageless, ethereal, unfathomable. This 
spirit is that which is “tranquil and unperturbed, sensitive and 
effective.” The so-called solidification of the spiritual embryo is 
also this spirit. 

The ignorant who do not know this think that the valley spirit 
means the spirit focused on the “valley of heaven” (at the top of the 
head); some call concentration of the spirit in the “yellow court” (in 
the middle of the torso) nurturing the valley spirit. This is wrong. If 
you say the spirit focuses on the valley of heaven or concentrates in 
the yellow court, then it is not open; without openness, how can 

there be spirit? Not open, no spirit - how can it be called the valley 

Understanding Reality says, “If you want to attain the eternal 
immortality of the valley spirit, you must set up the foundation on 
the mysterious female. When true vitality has returned to the golden 
room, a pearl of spiritual light never leaves.” The mysterious female 
is integrated and open within; being open, true awareness is ever- 
present and does not become obscure. True vitality, spiritual light, 
and the valley spirit, all symbolise true awareness. 

The Gold Crucible and the Jade Furnace 





The gold crucible is something firm, strong, stable; this 
symbolises single-minded concentration of will, by which one can 
bear the Tao. The jade furnace is something warm, flexible, even, 
peaceful; it symbolises gradual progress of the work, by which one 
can preserve long and go far. The gold crucible is also called the 
crucible of heaven ; the jade furnace is also called the furnace of 

Ignorant people who do not know this cast iron crucibles, build 
clay stoves, and fire metals and minerals, vainly imagining that they 
will form the elixir in this way. This is wrong. This is because 
material furnaces and crucibles can only refine material medicines 
used for ordinary purposes; they cannot refine the immaterial elixir 
of immortality. 

An ancient immortal said, “The crucible basically is no crucible, 
and the furnace is not a furnace either.” What the furnace and 
crucible refer to is the fact that practise of the Tao can only be 

accomplished when firmness and flexibility are both employed. This 
is like a chemist needing a furnace for the crucible and needing a 
crucible for the furnace; only when equipped with both furnace and 
crucible can one make medicine. 

The Medicinal Substances of Raven and Rabbit 



There is a golden raven in the sun, which is the yin within yang; 
there is a jade rabbit in the moon, which is the yang within yin. 
Among the trigrams, the sun is fire =, yang outside and yin inside, 
symbolising the presence of flexibility within strength. Among the 
trigrams, the moon is water =-=, yin outside and yang inside, 
symbolising the presence of strength within flexibility. The science 
of spiritual alchemy is simply a matter of taking flexibility within 
strength and strength within flexibility, which are the two great 
medicines of true yin and true yang, and fusing them into one 
energy, thus forming the elixir. The reason that true yin and true 
yang are called medicines is that it is possible thereby to accomplish 
rejuvenation and extension of life. The so-called intertwining of 
tortoise and snake, and the mutual settling of water and fire , both 
represent this principle; it is just a matter of picking convenient 
images to represent the path of unification of true yin and true yang. 

The ignorant who do not know this are confused by the words 
raven and rabbit , which conventionally stand for sun and moon; 
some practise the “inhalation” of sunlight and moonlight into the 
mouth; some practise taking in sunlight and moonlight with the 
eyes. This is wrong. In the sky there are the sun and moon of the 
sky; in humans there are the sun and moon of humans. The true yin 

and true yang of the human being are the raven and rabbit, sun and 
moon, of humans. The sun and moon in the sky are far away from 
us - how can their light be collected? Even supposing something is 
collected, it is external energy that can cause harm; if you do these 
practises of taking light into the mouth and eyes for a long time, 
they will result in swelling and blindness. So there is no benefit, but 
rather harm. 

Dragon and Tiger Meet 






The nature of the dragon is flexible; it enlivens beings. 
Associated with wood , among the trigrams it corresponds to thunder 
e_=. This symbolises the flexible essence of human beings. Thunder , 
though basically yang, is taken as a symbol of flexibility because 
there is less yang than yin. The nature of the tiger is strong; it kills 
beings. Associated with metal , among the trigrams it corresponds to 
lake ===. This symbolises firm sense in human beings. Lake , though 
basically yin, is taken as a symbol of strength because there is more 
yang than yin. 

When this essence and this sense are separated, they become 
temperament and emotion, resulting in injury. When they are 
conjoined they are true essence and true sense, enhancing life. The 
meeting of dragon and tiger is seeking sense through essence and 
returning sense to essence, meaning that essence and sense unite. 
Images such as the maid of the eastern house and the man of the 
western house joining in matrimony, the eldest son and the youngest 

daughter uniting, and metal and wood combining, all symbolise this 
merging of true essence and true sense. 

The ignorant who do not know this consider the liver as the 
dragon and the lungs as the tiger, and say that the mating of the 
dragon and tiger means cultivating the energies of liver and lungs in 
the umbilical centre, in the lower abdomen, or in the middle of the 
torso. This is wrong. What they do not realise is that the energies of 
liver and lungs are conditioned physical energies; not only can they 
not be joined into one, but their forced aggregation will, if continued 
for a long time, produce an ailment that cannot be cured, hastening 
one’s death. Is that not foolish? 

Inversion of Fire and Water 


WATER. . . 




The trigram water is yin outside and yang inside; the trigram 
fire = is yang outside and yin inside. Inner yang constitutes water ; 
outer yang makes fire. The science of alchemy takes the yang in 
water and fills in the yin in fire, using water to settle fire. This is 
called water rising and fire descending, water and fire being 
inverted. This symbolises the spiritual water of real knowledge of 
the mind of Tao controlling the aberrant fire of conscious 
knowledge of the human mind. 

Our real knowledge is dark outside and light inside, like water 
being yin outside and yang inside. Our conscious knowledge is 
light outside and dark inside, like fire = being yang outside and 

yin inside. Controlling conscious knowledge by real knowledge, 
submitting to real knowledge by conscious knowledge, reality and 
consciousness are unified and crystallise into the elixir. This is 
likened to inverting water and fire so that water and fire settle each 
other. Such images as the boy and girl, the black lead and red 
mercury, also depict the uniting of real knowledge and conscious 

The ignorant who do not know this say the genitals are water and 
the heart of fire , and consider inversion of water and fire to mean 
conveying the energy of the genitals upward to combine with the 
heart, while the energy of the heart descends to the genitals. There 
are also those who gather the bedroom elixir, taking the boy and girl 
to actually mean a man and a woman, considering the inversion of 
water and fire to mean sexual intercourse with the man below and 
the woman above. Also, chemists take the inversion of water and 
fire to mean using lead to stabilise mercury, or to refer to building a 
fire in the furnace below while keeping water in the crucible above. 
These are all wrong. The part of cultivating reality is a matter of 
working on the reality; all aberrant practises and abominations 
dealing with form and polluted material substance are artificial, not 
real - how can one attain reality thereby? 

Reversal of the Five Elements 




When the five elements go in order, wood produces fire , metal 
produces water ; when the five elements are reversed, fire produces 
wood, water produces metal. The wood produced by fire is wood 
that never decays, like wood that is treated by fire to become 
charcoal and lasts forever in the ground. The metal produced by 
water that never rusts, like gold in a smelting furnace liquefying, 
then forming an ingot with uncommon brilliance. 

Fire producing wood symbolises the fundamental essence of 
human beings refined in the furnace of evolution to become 
permanently stable essence. Water producing metal symbolises the 
true sense in human beings crossing over the waves of the ocean of 
desire to become permanently undefiled sense. This is what is meant 
by the saying of the ancient immortals, “When the live elements go 
in order, the universe is a pit of fire; when the five elements are 
reversed, the whole world is made of jewels.” 

The ignorant who do not know this consider mental circulation of 
energy horizontally and vertically within the body to be the reversal 
of the five elements. This is wrong. What they do not realise is that 
the body is wholly mundane; the internal organs and external 
faculties are all temporary things, becoming a pile of stinking bones 
and flesh when respiration stops - where is there anything real? It is 
an impossible dream to be able to comprehend essence and life 
through these temporary things. 

The Yellow Woman Go-Between 


The “yellow woman” is the earth mother in the centre, called the 
yellow woman because it can harmonise yin and yang and can 
combine the four forms. The alchemical treaties use this to 
symbolise the true faith within the true intent in people, which can 
harmonise essence and sense, and nurture vitality and energy. True 
intent and true faith are the yellow woman in out being; this is what 
is referred to as the central communicative principle. 

Ignorant people who do not know this think the yellow woman 
go-between means mentally conveying the energies of the internal 
organs so that they conjoin. Then there are also mischief-makers 
who use glib procuresses to encourage sexual encounters so that 
they can take the first sexual fluids of virgins, and call this the 
yellow woman acting as go-between. This is wrong. The true earth 
has no position, true intent has no form; producing all things, 
containing all principles, it is possible thereby to join vitality, 
energy, and spirit, and to assemble the five elements - that is why it 
is called the yellow woman go-between. This term does not refer to 
mental gymnastics or to procuresses. 

The Twin Poles of the Two Eights 




From the time of the new moon, the moon communicates with the 
sun; on the third day of the lunar month, a slight light appears. Then 
on the eighth, the yang within yin is at the halfway point, like a 
strung bow; this is called the upper pole. On the sixteenth, the slight 
darkness of one yin appears on the full moon. Then on the twenty- 

third, the yin within yang is at the halfway point, again like a strung 
bow; this is called the lower pole. 

At the upper pole is obtained eight ounces of the metal within 
water ; at the lower pole is obtained eight ounces of the water within 
metal : the two eights making one pound, metal and water stabilising 
each other, is a symbol of yin and yang joining. Alchemical texts 
use this to allude to the balance of strength and flexibility, without 
partiality, without bias, perfectly centred, correctly aligned. 

Ignorant people who do not know this sometimes think a male 
reaching the age of sixteen is the full complement of the energies of 
the twin poles of the two eights, and then they stop emission of 
semen. Others take the two eights to mean eight ounces of lead and 
eight ounces of mercury, and cook these into a potion to ingest. 
Both are wrong. The two poles are yin and yang. The firm strength 
of heaven = is yang, and the yielding flexibility of earth = = is yin. 
When yin and yang mate, the body of heaven and earth is formed, 
and the basis of the elixir forms. This is the meaning of the twin 

The Tiny Pearl 




Before people are born, when they are in the womb, there is an 
undifferentiated darkness; they are just in a swirl of unified energy, 
with nothing else. This is what is called the universal One 
containing the true energy. This energy is utterly spiritual, utterly 
ineffable, utterly open, utterly miraculous; it is ultimate nonbeing, 
yet contains ultimate being. The three bases, eight trigrams, four 
forms, and five elements, are all contained therein; so though it is 

formless, it can produce manifestations, which are endless - the 
organs and members of the body all develop naturally from it. 
Because it is utterly spiritual, utterly ineffable, utterly open, and 
utterly miraculous, it is also called true awareness, and it is also 
called the nonpsychological spirit. 

In the womb, one energy containing reality is called the real 
energy; after leaving the womb, awareness containing the one 
energy is called conscious energy. One energy is the substance; this 
is real emptiness. True awareness is the function; this is ineffable 
existence. True energy, true awareness, real emptiness, ineffable 
existence - though the names are different, it is just one reality. This 
reality is formless, imperceptible, indescribable; it is so subtle that 
the ancient immortals called this reality a tiny pearl. Yet through 
they call it a tiny pearl, in reality it has no such shape; they call it 
thus because there is a point of conscious energy hidden in the 
centre, and because that point of awareness contains the whole 
cosmos, space, and the universe. In reality it is the original energy 
which is prior to the bifurcation of the vast nondifferentiation of 
primal unity. 

Ignorant people who do not know this take a blood clot of a girl’s 
first menses to be the unity pearl. Also, yogins take the tiny pearl to 
mean the outpouring of the light of the eyes after long concentration 
of the mind on the “hall of illumination,” the spot one inch inside 
the point between the eyebrows. Both of these are wrong. The tiny 
pearl of primordial nondifferentiation is the jewel of consciousness 
which can produce saints and sages, immortals and buddhas - how 
could it be made by blood, or by the light of visualisation? 

The Four Hundred Words on the Gold Elixir says, “Primal unity 
contains space, space contains the universe; when you find the root 
source, it is the size of a tiny grain.” San-feng said, “Who does not 
know, who does not understand, who does not act - all have gotten 
lost on the bead of primal nondifferentiation. 

The Hexagram Signs of the Firing Process 






The alchemical classics use the sixty-four hexagrams to represent 
the principles of the yang fire and the yin convergence. The two 
hexagram heaven = and earth 11 are taken for the crucible and 
furnace because the firmness of yang and the flexibility of yin are 
considered the substance. The two hexagrams water H and fire = 
are taken for the medicinal substances because the balance of 
firmness and flexibility is considered the function. 

The two hexagrams return il and meeting = are the borders of 
intercourse of yin and yang; they are taken to illustrate that the use 
of firmness and the use of flexibility each have their time. The two 
hexagrams difficulty 11 and darkness 11 are the beginning of 
evolution; they are taken to represent the necessity of using firmness 
when the fire is to be advanced and the necessity of using flexibility 
when the fire is to be withdrawn. Settled H and unsettled H are the 
end of evolution; they are taken to represent how the use of firmness 
with the yang fire should not be excessive and the use of flexibility 
with the yin convergence should be insufficient. 

The remaining fifty-four hexagrams all follow heaven , earth , 
water , fire , return, meeting, difficulty, darkness, settled, and 
unsettled in their application, naturally being so. It is a matter of the 
balancing and unification of yin and yang. 

The ignorant who do not know this apply the sixty-four hexagram 
to the terrestrial time of calendar and clock and perform forced 
practises on this framework. This is wrong. The creative energy of 

yin and yang of heaven and earth flows in cycles, without beginning 
or end, not according to the sequence of sixty-four hexagrams. The 
sixty-four hexagrams were made by a sage who observed heaven 
and earth and understood the evolution of yin and yang; the sixty- 
four hexagrams are just explanatory notes on the evolution of yin 
and yang. When the evolution of the human being and the evolution 
of heaven and earth are in concert, there are naturally the sixty-four 
hexagrams - one should not get mired in the words and cling to the 

The Gate of Birth of the Self 




When the moon reaches the southwest, darkness culminates and 
light is bom. The southwest is associated with earth, which is pure 
yin. The arising of one yang at the bottom of pure yin has the form 
of earth = = above and thunder =-= below, making the hexagram 
return. In terms of the phases of the moon, this is the upturned 
crescent. These images both symbolise the sudden appearance of the 
celestial mind in the midst of extreme quiet. This is also called the 
mind of Tao and the natural, innocent true mind; it is what was 
referred to before as the crescent moon furnace. 

If you see this mind, preserve it intact, and use it to promote the 
celestial and withdraw the mundane, with the sustained attention of 
a cat waiting to pounce on a mouse, you will naturally reach the 
point where the celestial gradually grows and the mundane 
gradually recedes. When mundanity is exhausted and the celestial is 
pure, one is an immortal. Therefore the southwest position of earth 

is called the gate of birth of the self, or the gate of giving life to the 

The ignorant who do not know this think the gate of birth of the 
self is the female birth canal. This is wrong. The birth canal gives 
birth to humans - how can it give birth to immortals? 

The Door of Killing the Self 




From the northeast, the yang light of the moon is about to 
disappear. The northeast is associated with mountain = =, in which 
the yin energy is about to become total and the yang light is very 
slight. This stage is represented by the hexagram stripping away, 
which has mountain above and earth = = below; in terms of the 
phases of the moon, this is the overturned bowl. These both 
symbolise external influences, acquired energies, stripping away the 
real, the original. Those of great power who suddenly awaken and 
turn around use this bit of remaining yang to break through darkness 
with light, applying effort to cultivate and sustain it; then it is not 
hard to return to the fundamental and restore the original. 

Ordinary people who are deluded and unawakened go along with 
the force of mundanity as it strips away the celestial; then when the 
celestial is exhausted and the mundane is total, it is impossible not 
to die. The I Ching calls this “losing companionship in the 
northwest.” Alchemical texts also call it the door of killing the self. 

The ignorant who do not know this think the birth canal of the 
female is the door of killing the self. This is wrong. The gate of 
birth and the door of death are both immaterial, formless 

passageways. By following mundanity one dies, by returning the 
celestial one lives; hence the names gate of birth and door of killing. 
In reality, they are just one opening. When ancient immortals called 
this the pass of life and death, though they called it a pass, again this 
was just a matter of terminology - it has no location, no place. 

Understanding Reality says, “Make the door of death the door of 
life; do not call the gate of life the gate of death. If you understand 
the killing mechanism and know how to reverse it, for the first time 
you will realise there is giving life within killing.” Based on this, we 
can know the meaning of the gate of birth and the door of killing. 

The Opening of Doing 





The path of doing is the work of “watching the opening with 
desire.” Watching the opening means watching the opening of the 
evolution of yin and yang. The course of work, the orderly 
procedure - using the temporal to restore the primordial, combining 
the four forms, assembling the five elements, gathering the 
medicines, operating the fire, from restoring the elixir to forming 
the embryo - is all within that opening. Without the verbal 
communication and mental transmission of a true teacher, a slight 
miss causes a great loss. 

The ignorant who do not know this take the path of doing to be 
manipulation of circulation in the temporal unreal physical body. 
This is wrong. The science of the gold elixir is the study of the 
primordial, whereby it is possible to spin yin and yang, take over 
evolution, reverse the mechanism of energy, invert heaven and 

earth, and be in primordial accord with nature. It cannot be 
accomplished by manipulation of the conditioned physical body. 

Cheng-yang said, “Tears, saliva, gastric fluid, semen, air, blood, 
and lymph, the seven marvellous substances, are all mundane - if 
you take these things as the basis of the elixir, how can you fly aloft 
to the celestial realms? Tz’u-yang said, “Saliva, semen, and breath 
are humanly manipulated. Only when you have elixir can you 
evolve. If there is no true seed in the crucible, it is like cooking with 
an empty pot.” The adepts are those who recognise the real - the 
path of doing is not easy to know. 

The subtlety of Nondoing 




The path of nondoing is the work of watching the subtlety 
without desire, and takes place after the formation of the spiritual 
embryo. This is calmly watching the subtlety of the development of 
the unified energy. After the spiritual embryo has formed, the 
temporal has been returned to the primordial; then one just uses the 
work of bathing and incubating, without either neglect or obsession, 
operating the natural real fire to bring about the transmutation by 
which the formless spontaneously produces form and the immaterial 
produces substance. When fully developed, the infant emerges, like 
a ripe melon falling from the vine; then the intense effort that had 
been hitherto applied is abandoned and no longer applied. 

The ignorant who do not know this, without having found out 
what essence and life are and what practise of the Tao is, learn some 
auxiliary methods, roundabout routes, minor techniques, and 
immediately go into mountains to practise quiet sitting, or shut off 

their senses and still their minds, and consider this to be nondoing. 
This is wrong. 

Essence and life must be cultivated as a pair; the work requires 
two phases. The first of these two phases is doing, by which one 
comprehends life; next comes nondoing, by which one comprehends 
essence. How can one comprehend essence and life by empty, quiet 
sitting and stilling the mind? 

Understanding Reality says, “Before you have refined the 
restored elixir, do not go into the mountains; in the mountains, 
nothing within or without is real knowledge. This ultimate treasure 
is in everyone - it is just that the ignorant do not fully realise it.” It 
also says, “Beginning with doing, no one sees; when nondoing is 
reached, everyone knows. Only seeing nondoing as the essential 
marvel, do you not realise that doing is the foundation?” By this we 
can know that doing and nondoing each have their time, each have 
their function; they are very dissimilar. 

Merging with the Ordinary World, Harmonising Illumination 



Merging with the ordinary world and harmonising illumination is 
the foundation of the great hermit who is concealed in the city. 
Merging with the ordinary world means mixing with the people 
without letting them know of one’s real inner state; harmonising 
illumination means harmonising without imitation, being in the 
world yet transcending the world. When able to mix with the 
ordinary world and harmonise enlightenment, one is outwardly 
round and able to respond to people, while inwardly square and 

autonomous. Using the phenomena of the world to practise the 
principles of the Tao, one may appear or disappear, rebel or 
conform, without hindrance; then practise of the Tao is very easy. 

The ignorant who do not know this sometimes imagine that 
merging with the ordinary world and harmonising illumination 
means dealing with affairs in the daytime and practicing quietude at 
night. This is wrong. This might be called following the ordinary 
world, but not merging with the world; it may be called concealing 
illumination, but not harmonising illumination. 

Merging with the ordinary world and harmonising illumination 
has the power to take over the evolution of heaven and earth ; it is 
the secret whereby one can appropriate the vivifying and killing of 
yin and yang. It is not easy to know, and not easy to do. 

The medicine Goes Back in the Earth Pot 






The nature of earth is warm and soft; thus it can nurture beings. 
Cooking in a pot can complete things. Therefore a pot referred to as 
earth means a vessel which nurtures and completes. This is not 
ordinary earth, not an ordinary pot. The medicine going back in the 
earth pot is a symbol for the work of incubation, gentle nurturance, 
of the spiritual embryo formed by the joining of yin and yang. 

Incubation of the spiritual embryo is all a matter of single-minded 
attention not scattering, persistently keeping to the centre, yin and 
yang not being imbalanced. Therefore it is called the earth pot, since 
earth symbolises the centre; when you get down to the reality, it 
simply means central balance. If you keep to the centre, yin and 
yang combine, the five elements assemble, and the spiritual embryo 

becomes complete. If you lose the centre, yin and yang become 
lopsided, imbalanced, the five elements disintegrate, and the 
spiritual embryo is damaged. So keeping to the centre, maintaining 
balance, is the secret of nurturing the spiritual embryo. 

The ignorant who do not know this sometimes dig out earth 
ovens, heat up cinnabar, and take quicksilver from cinnabar, calling 
the earth oven the earth pot. Others melt lead in a clay oven with a 
reservoir of ash, and call the reservoir of ash the earth pot. They are 
all wrong. 

Tzu-yeh said, “The true earth has no position, true intent has no 
form.” It is because the “earth pot” which is the centre has no form, 
no appearance, no location, no place, that it can develop and 
complete the spiritual embryo. It does not mean a clay vessel. 

Solidifying the Spiritual Embryo 




The spiritual embryo is the embryonic sage, the fundamental state 
of the infant, without discrimination or knowledge. When you reach 
the state of absence of discrimination or knowledge, the spirit is 
unified, objects disappear, and you enter into a state of profound 
trance without differentiation, entering from doing into nondoing. 

Ignorant people who do not know this think that conveying the 
energies of heart and genitals to mix in the solar plexus region is the 
spiritual embryo; some consider concentration of the mind in the 
midtorso to be the spiritual embryo; some say the spiritual embryo 
means conveying energy up the spine and down the front of the 
body, finally dwelling in the lower abdomen. All of these are 

wrong. The spiritual embryo is formless and immaterial; though it is 
called an embryo, in reality there is no embryo to be seen. The term 
embryo just describes true awareness becoming solidified, 
stabilised, not scattering. If you forcibly coagulate a corpuscle of air 
and blood, that is a ghost embryo which hastens death, not the 
spiritual embryo of eternal life. 

In Ten Months the Embryo Is Complete 

The completeness of the embryo in ten months is a symbol of 
completeness of spirit, repleteness of energy, mental accretions 
gone, acquired influences dissolved, mundanity exhausted, the 
celestial pure. It is like pregnancy being completed in ten lunar 
months; but when it is said that the method of the gold elixir is 
completed in ten months, this is just using the metaphor of 
pregnancy - it means that after the spiritual embryo is solidified, it 
is necessary to ward off danger and gently nurture it until it is fully 
developed, without any lack; it does not mean there is a fixed period 
of ten months. 

The ignorant who do not know this are misled by the words ten 
months, and actually take ten months as a fixed period, during 
which they practise energy circulation, visualisation, or mental 
freezing, by which they imagine they will solidify the embryo. This 
is wrong. The path of cultivation of reality, from gathering the 
medicines, refining them, crystallising the elixir, solidifying the 
embryo, to release and transmutation, requires boundless effort - 

how could it be limited to ten months? By this we can know that ten 
months is just a symbolic term. 

The Infant Emerges 

The emergence of the infant means the release and transmutation 
of the spiritual embryo. The spiritual embryo means that within the 
material body there is also a spiritual body; release and 
transmutation mean that the spiritual body is born from the material 
body. Because the spiritual body is born from within the material 
body, this is likened to a woman giving birth after ten months of 
pregnancy, producing an infant. Therefore the spiritual body is 
called the infant. When the infant emerges, there is a body outside 
the body, leaping out of the world, not remaining within the five 
elements, avoiding transmigration, having the same life span as 
heaven and earth , the same age as sun and moon. 

The ignorant who do not know this take the true yang within 
water =-= to be the spiritual body, the infant; some take the vital 
energy in the genitals to be the spiritual-body infant. The infant 
within water is yang within yin; the spiritual-body infant is the 
reality of the merging and sublimation of yin and yang. As for the 
energy within the genitals, this is a wildfire in the genitals, and does 

not have the meaning of the infant at all. They should not be mixed 
Up - 

Understanding Reality says, “The infant is the unified true 
energy; in ten months the embryo is complete, entering the spiritual 
foundation.” The Four Hundred Words on the Gold Elixir says, 
“When husband and wife have intercourse, clouds and rain form in 
the bedroom. In a year is born an infant, and everyone rides on a 
crane.” By this we can know what the infant of the spiritual body 

Shifting the Furnace, Changing the Crucible 




When the great Tao is completely attained, there is a body outside 
the body, one is physically and mentally sublimated, and one has 
reached the stage of a great sage, there is no further need for furnace 
and crucible - why should there be such a thing as shifting the 
furnace, changing the crucible? The reason for shifting the furnace 
and changing the crucible is to store the spiritual body and secretly 
develop spiritual powers. 

What is shifted is the furnace, what is changed is the crucible. 
Using universal void for the crucible and nondoing for the furnace, 
the former crucible of heaven and the furnace of earth , the cinnabar 
crucible and the crescent moon furnace, as well as the medicinal 
substances, are no longer used. All that is used is the spiritual body. 
The spiritual body transmutes spontaneously in emptiness, 
becoming increasingly effective with increasing openness, 
becoming increasingly marvellous with increasing voidness. Its 

marvellous efficacy unfathomable, its transmutations endless, is 
what is called the child also producing grandchildren, and the 
grandchildren also branching out. Getting to this state, ceasing 
effort, breaking through space, and leaping up to the supreme 
infinite celestial realm - this is the perfect attainment. 

Students of later times who have not gotten the authentic tradition 
sometimes suppose that having a body outside the body is the 
consummation of the Tao. This is not so. The Song of Tapping the 
Lines says, “When not a single thing exists, that finally reveals the 
Tao; in the five directions comes through the countenance of the 
real person. Immortal boys and girls greet one on coloured clouds, 
and in the five palaces of illumination, pronouncements of truth are 
transmitted.” Seeing this, we know that the ultimate 
accomplishment is only when the spiritual body can transmute in 
countless ways. 

Part Three 

Related Texts 


1. Detachment from the World 

Of worldly things, a thousandfold, not one is real; 

The sentiments of mundane ties are most injurious to the being. 
Cutting through with one stroke, there is nothing to bind you; 

In the realm of liberation you become an independent person. 

2. Cultivation and Sleep 

Cutting down on sleep is really not removing the demon of sleep; 
Forgetting to eat, neglecting to sleep, you cut through 

When entanglements are swept away and the mind is clear 
and calm, 

You may sleep throughout the day and night - what is there 
to fear? 

3. Practise 

Practise developing virtue is the greatest priority; 

When achievement is great and practise profound, it moves 
heaven and earth. 

Ridiculous are the foolish ones who only profit themselves; 

With no achievement and little action, they dream of becoming 


4. The Gold Elixir 

The primordial basic essence is called the elixir; 

In the furnace of the eight trigrams it is forged into a pill. 

The deluded throughout the world vainly seek external 

By taking these, they wrongly imagine they can ascend to the 

5. The Mysterious Pass 

Few people know the opening of the mysterious pass; 

Extremely subtle and recondite, it contains yin and yang. 

Going along, you flow back into the road of affliction; 

Coming back in reverse, this is the foundation of sages. 

6. The Discriminating Spirit 

The consciousness which thinks is called the discriminating 

The seed of transmigration, it carries the accretions of the senses. 
The ignorant and deluded both play with the wandering soul; 
After all, who can see the host behind it all? 

7. The Celestial Vitality 

A point of celestial vitality is hidden in the physical being; 

When you recognise the real, you can set you sights upon it. 

It is not in the heart and not in the genitals; 

Not void, not form, it is concealed in the mysterious pass. 

8. Primordial Energy 

The primordial unified energy is in the vast undifferentiated; 

It has no shape or form, yet does not fall into voidness. 

When you recognise the true state of the beginning of life, 

Only then will you know there is a host within your self. 

9. The Primordial and the Conditioned 
Before birth is called the primordial; 

Temperament comes along with emergence in the world. 

The sages of yore and people of late are divided on two roads; 
You should carefully distinguish the partial and complete. 

10. The Beginning of the Course 

The beginning of the course is basically the primal treasure, 

The subtle, recondite, true unified vitality. 

It is something unadulterated, flawless, pure; 

Do not misapply this term to menstrual blood. 

1 1 . Three Medicines 

The medicines are of three kinds - vitality, energy, and spirit; 
Whatever has form is not the original reality. 

Utterly pure, open and aware, these medicines 
Are refined into the indestructible spiritual body. 

12. Essence and Life 

Essence and life are basically divided into primordial and 

When the living body falls to the ground, it determines partial 
and complete. 

Temporal essence and life follow the turns of fate; 

Get hold of the primordial and you wield the authority yourself. 

13. The Heart of Heaven and Earth 

The heart of heaven and earth - where is it stored? 

Yin and yang stimulate it to manifest a sphere of light. 

Refining it in the crucible of openness and nonbeing, 

Forever and ever it never wanes away. 

14. The Mind ofTao and the Human Mind 

The human mind is like iron, the mind of Tao like gold; 

One should assess them carefully in terms of subtlety and 


The spiritual capacity of transmutation has no high and low; 

At the fountainhead, the living water distinguishes yang and yin. 

15. Before Birth 

In the state before birth, who knows? 

When silent, passive, undifferentiated, 

The four forms and five elements do not reach; 

The unified energy has no male or female. 

16 .At Birth 

The newborn state - what is it like? 

The primordial and the temporal are one energy. 

No discrimination, no knowledge, not a single stain - 
The seed of buddhas and immortals, the lair of sages. 

17. The Other 

The other is not another person; 

If you mistake it for another, you are already way off. 

Your child has wondered off outside - 

Give it a call; when it sees your face, it will follow its parent. 

18. Other and Self 

The classics speak of other and self to distinguish yin and yang; 
This is the realm of purity, neither material nor void. 

Those who practise deviant techniques of sexual alchemy 
Destroy their natural innocence in the brothels. 

19. Associates 

Associates should be divided into inner and outer supports; 

With two or three people as personal associates, 

And outer associates likewise helping out, 

Shed the dust of personal history. 

20. Patrons 

People seek patrons, hoping to accomplish their practises; 

Buying crucibles, smelting lead, they madly grasp for the wind. 
How can they understand that the celestial mechanism transcends 
things of the world? 

Depending on the power of others, they stick to their ignorance. 

21. The Ninefold Crucible 

The number nine associated with heaven is called pure yang; 

The method of refining restored elixir in the ninefold crucible 
Is interpreted by the deluded to refer to women as crucibles - 
They will surely enter an inescapable impasse. 

22. Summoning and Absorbing 

There is a secret method of summoning and absorbing the 

Beckoning fulfilment by emptiness, you see the emperor of 
the void: 

In the clamour of form and sound, there is no obstruction; 

Freely you spin the north star. 

23. Inversion 

What difficulty is there in inverting yin and yang? 

You should exercise spiritual observation in quietude. 

When the mind of Tao is not obscured, the human mind 

Right away you ascend directly to the peak experience. 

24. The Firing Process 

The work of operating the fire basically has no time; 

Working by day, introspective by night, you kill the inner 

Warding off danger, wary of peril, ever clear and calm, 

In dealing with people you adjust without error. 

25. The Hexagram Images 

For the firing process, the classics speak of the I Ching hexagrams; 
But it is wrong to ponder the lines and cling to the images. 

It is all a matter of needing to understand the principle of yin 
and yang; 

Advance or withdraw according to the time, as is indicated. 

26. The Furnace and Crucible of Heaven and Earth 

The crucible of heaven and furnace of earth are in one’s 
own body; 

Stop inquiring externally after their basis. 

When firmness and flexibility have no separation, 

They forge the primal unified energy, the real. 

27. The Crescent Moon Furnace 

You ask what the crescent moon furnace is - 
Within black there is white, returning after darkness. 

Clearly I point out the matrix of the restored elixir 
To waken the people of the time - do you know or not? 

28. The Cinnabar Crucible 

Cultivation of reality depends on the cinnabar crucible; 

It is not iron, not gold, not silver. 

Recognising the light of awareness, you take the fresh, 

Replacing the old, you see original humanity. 

29. The Earth Pot 

The earth pot is not made of earth; 

The proper state of central balance is its true name. 

Wood , metal , water , and fire, all gather herein, 

Cultivating a mystic pearl that shines through the night. 

30. The Dipper Handle 

By watching the dipper handle as it turns in the sky, 

You will realise that the mechanism of life is elsewhere. 

Turning it around to retrieve autonomy within, 

Then in the midst of the fire a golden lotus will appear. 

3 1 . The Two Poles 

The lower pole is water , the upper pole metal ; 

It is just a matter of harmonious stabilisation of yin and yang. 

If you succeed in combining firmness and flexibility, 

In the centre appears the heart of nirvana. 

32. Clear and Cloudy 

Clear water is celestial, cloudy water is mundane; 

How many students make a close investigation? 

Where the pivotal works move, real and false are divided; 
Getting rid of the cloudy and keeping the clear produces white 

33. Self-Refinement 

Practising self-refinement is the first priority; 

Stopping craving, forgetting emotions, removing entanglements, 
When all attachment to the senses is cut off, 

There is a single field of elixir, completely clean and clear. 

34. Setting Up the Foundation 

Stability of will is setting up the foundation; 

Not wavering in body or mind is most excellent. 

Rely on that in trouble and trial; 

With no waves on still waters, there is no connection to things. 

35. Lead and Mercury 

True mercury is not mercury of the mundane world; 

True lead is not lead that comes from mines. 

One is sense, one essence, the primordial medicines; 

Refining them, returning to the root, there is a great restoration. 

36 . The Boy and Girl 

When the girl hides in fire, she is not real; 

When the boy is in water, he cannot be followed. 

But now that the opening of yin and yang has been explained, 

By openness and solidity they give birth to the spiritual body. 

37 . Water =-= and fire 

Do not seek water send fire in the north and south. 

The nature of fire is to fly up; water flows down. 

If you can invert the two things, 

Water rises, fire descends, and they form the elixir. 

38 . Thunder =-= and Lake 

Lake is not in the west, thunder not in the east; 

When essence is disturbed and sense confused, their energies do 
not join. 

When you attain the method of restoring sense to essence, 

In a moment you see the true inner self. 

39 . Midnight and Noon 

Stop looking for midnight and noon in the night and day; 

There is another indicator within the body. 

There is yin and yang, movement and stillness, according to 
the time; 

In the midst of concentration you always hear the note of high 

40 . Six A.M. and Six P.M. 

The classics say that bathing is done at six in the morning and 

This describes two energies without the flaw of imbalance. 

The ignorant who do not understand the meeting of yin and yang 
Practise quiet sitting in the morning and at night. 

41. The Yellow Woman 

The pairing of female and male requires the yellow woman; 

The central mediator forms the receptacle of creation. 

If you ask for genuine information on the yellow woman, 
Sincerity alone has the effect of harmonising the five elements. 

42. Restoring the Elixir 

Why is cultivating the elixir called restoring the elixir? 

When the five energies are separated, each is isolated; 

When you know how to restore the original state, they all 

Mind and body unwavering, they form into a whole. 

43. Maturation of the Elixir 

When the elixir has been restored, there is another method; 

It does not require adjustment and further increase of yang. 

The spiritual fire spontaneously burns in the furnace, 

Sending forth a bead of light which suffuses the heavens. 

44. The Spiritual Embryo 

The spiritual embryo is not a corpuscle with form; 

When energy clusters and spirit congeals, the true seed is 

Aware of perils, warding off danger, constantly taking care, 

If you are too intent, it will surely cause disaster. 

45. Release from the Womb 

When the spiritual embryo is released and transmuted, then it is 
completely real; 

Ten months of work nurtures the valley spirit. 

Celestial energy totally pure, the force of mundanity exhausted, 
An immortal being leaps out in open space. 

46. Doing 

Doing is not manipulation of the physical body; 

Forced gymnastics all result in injury. 

How can you understand the true secret, mentally transmitted? 
Unfathomed by ghosts or spirits, one revolves yin and yang. 

47 . Nondoing 

Nondoing is not sticking to indifferent emptiness; 

When you are able to avoid negligence and obsession both, 
Rooting out the seeds of repeated birth and death, 

Right in the centre there is just one spiritual youth. 

48 . Return =_= and Meeting = 

When yin culminates, returning to yang, advance the fire; 

When yang is pure, on the verge of meeting, work the yin 

When yin convergence and yang fire are used without error, 
They forge the picture of the primordial absolute. 

49 . Gentle and Vigorous 

Conquering demons by intense effort is vigorous cultivation; 
Nurturing energy with empty mind is gentle development. 
Knowing what is indicated and what is not, adapting to the 

Everywhere gold shines, the eyes are clear. 

50 . Harmonising Illumination 

Harmonising illumination, merging with the ordinary world, is 
the secret celestial mechanism; 

The spiritual achievement of the great function is truly rare. 
Ever responsive, ever clear, ever independent, 

According to the time one sheds the old and dons new clothing. 


If students want to practise the great Tao and comprehend essence 
and life, first they should find the opening of the mysterious female. 
The opening of the mysterious female is the opening of the 
mysterious pass. 

This opening has a double door, opening and closing. It is nine 
feet high and five feet wide. Outside is a spiritual officer on sentry; 
inside are a dragon and tiger standing guard. The central hall is one 
room which extends in all directions; in it dwells a true human, with 
unkempt hair and bare feet, wearing a patchwork garment of five 
colours and a belt of yellow silk, holding a sceptre of golden light, 
sitting peacefully on the chair of spontaneity, leaning back without 
casting a shadow on the wall, a crystal lamp hung in front, eyes half 
closed, immobile, at rest, not impulsively looking around, not 
speaking at random. To the right there is a golden boy, to the left a 
jade girl. 

Sometimes the true human opens its eyes and light fills the 
universe, illumining even the dark regions of the netherworld. 
Sometimes the true human opens its mouth and energy fills the 
universe, putting all demons to flight. The true human holds the 
power of evolution, the mechanism of yin and yang, the talisman of 
life and death, the handle of essence and life. 

However, there are few people in the world who are in genuine 
earnest. Most cannot put forth intensive effort or endure long 
perseverance; also they do not seek out the fundamental true 
principles, but just think of the mysterious pass and mysterious 
female in terms of physical locations and do some minor techniques 
which are attached either to voidness or to form, falsely imagining 
that they will attain the Tao thereby. This is pitiful. 

If one is a true stalwart, one can decisively set aside all 
entanglements, so that all objects are empty, and concentrate on the 
matter of most urgent importance, never changing one’s 
determination; then one can eventually come to know the 

mysterious pass, see the mysterious female, and finally comprehend 
essence and life. Students should work on this. 


The great Tao is uncontrived, based on spontaneity; 

But until the work is complete, one cannot adapt with autonomy. 
At the fork in the road, look for the true seed; 

In the furnace of the eight trigrams, refine the heaven of essence. 
The bottomless boat of method can cross the sea; 

Within punishment is hidden reward, which people can hardly 

In harm arises blessing, which requires concentration. 

The four forms blend, returning to the original state; 

The five elements aggregate, growing a golden lotus. 

Only when there is increase and decrease is it marvellous; 

Only knowing what is indicated and what not can you enter the 

Shedding all defiling things which bind and envelop, 

You attain the state of completeness before birth. 

Cultivating immortality, becoming enlightened, all depends 
on this; 

Anything else is in vain, running to extremes. 

Practicing self-refinement is 
the first priority; 

Stopping craving, 
forgetting emotions, 
removing entanglements. 

When all attachment to 
the senses is cut off. 

There is a single field of elixir, 
completely clean and clear. 

— Liu lining 

The Inner Teachings of Taoism is cen- 
tered on a classic of Chinese alchemy 
written in the eleventh century by a 
founder of the Complete Reality School 
of Taoism, Originally known as Tour 
Hundred Words on the Gold Elixir y die 
central text is a brief aphoristic work 
that uses colorful metaphorical lan- 
guage to summarize the essentials of 
self-transformation according to this 
school Often regarded as “reformed" 
Taoism, die Complete Reality School 
excluded superstitious elements and in- 
sisted on a practical basis for all its 
methods and activities. The aim of its 
teachings was the reunification of the 
fragmented self into the original whole, 
complete human being. The process of 
refining the self toward this end is die 
work of alchemy. 

Accompanying the text is a lucid 
commentary by a nineteenth-century 
adept that unlocks the meaning of the 
alchemical symbolism, explaining ervp- 
rk images such as the “gold elixir.’' the 
“jade furnace,” the “firing process,” and 
“true lead,” so diat the student may pro- 
ceed from the symbol to discover the 
underlying principle of spiritual prac- 
tice. In addition, the commentator has 
contributed verses illustrating the jiomr 
of each section of the text, plus notes 
on the essential teachings and secrets of 

Thomas Cleary holds a doctorate in 
Hast Asian languages and civilizations 
from Harvard University. He has 
translated several classic texts, includ 
ing Vitality, Energy, Spirit and The 
Taoist I ( '.bin/i. 

>•«'* iliiinibhab com 

US $14.95 

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